Dred Scott. If ever a name is engraved upon the tombstone of Negro slavery, I believe it will be Dred Scott, and not Abraham Lincoln or Julia Ward Howe or Beecher, Brown, Garrison or any of the others who labored upon the task. No. The man who lost his case and won his point was Dred Scott, and the man who seemingly won and ultimately lost, was Chief Justice Roger Taney. Taney is dead now and beyond our reproach, but upon his hands lies the blood of thousands.
That case was decided in 1857; the Supreme Court had spoken, the law was interpreted and applied, and one would have thought that would have been the end of it. Instead... oh, Great God in Heaven, how foolish mortal men can be! That case was, on its surface, a simple one. Dred Scott was a slave who was taken first to Illinois and later to Minnesota, living some time in each, and then back to the slave state of Missouri. At that time Illinois and Minnesota territory both had laws proclaiming any slave who entered their borders would be free. This was not done from any kindness of heart toward the Africans, but rather the reverse: the good people of Illinois and Minnesota did not wish to become acquainted with slavery, and set up such laws for the purpose of keeping out slave-owners and their human property.
As I say the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, presided over by a man who had long been waiting for such an opportunity, Chief Justice Roger Taney. In attempting to bar the door against slaves forever, he and his fellow justices committed an outrage. First, they found that Negroes could never be freed, as they were not human! Secondly, they determined that no state or territory, regardless of its own laws or the desires of its inhabitants, could prohibit slaves or the institution of slavery. Thus the good folk of the North went to bed one night thinking they could accept the 'peculiar institution' of the South so long as it remained confined to the Southern states, and woke up the next morning to find slavery legal and proper across the entire country! In their towns and cities! Even in their own homes!
This, coupled with the Fugitive Slave Act, was too much for the people of the North to accept. While Southerners toasted and boasted of their victory, there began to arise in the North a terrible anger, an implacable resolve, all the more dreadful for its slow, inexorable increase.
What I most remember from 1859 was a feeling of forces confined and pent as before a great storm, or a hurricane such as we have here on the Gulf Coast. The business climate improved - it could scarcely have worsened - but remained unsettled. The Great Southern put in orders for twenty more of the new 'American' type, and we were not the only company to recover its confidence and order new merchandise. On this wave of new orders men returned to work and prosperity once again seemed possible.
Our dividend on stock rose to seventy-five cents per share, not the highest being paid perhaps, but the solidity and stability of the Great Southern caused our stock to be highly prized. Despite floods that washed away part of the Nashville bridge in August and the expansion of our powder mills in June, the improving business climate kept our coffers reasonably full. 1859 was however to mark the absolute rock-bottom for our profits, the lowest they had been in more than a decade.
Expanding the powder mill meant our construction gangs were using great quantities of iron, but we found it expedient to ship the ore directly in to Atlanta from Nashville and process it in a little furnace at the site. Later, increasing demand for iron would require us to set up special trains to haul the materials from Montgomery to the rifle works and powder mill.
Of significance was the decision to double the size of our station in Columbus, Georgia. The home of our rifle works and a booming town for other industries, Columbus had outgrown the original modest depot and now received one of impressive size and grandeur. For the larger station and the myriad of switching tracks, service sheds and other impedimenta, we required additional land, and some of the inhabitants thereof did not wish to sell. I am not proud of the tactics employed; I left the matter almost entirely in the hands of the chief of the division. Through a combination of payments, seizure for back taxes and the employment of eminent domain we obtained the land, and with it the undying enmity of the people of Columbus. This year is the first time I can recall the railroad as the object of scorn and vitriol, and the first time I recall being personally the object of such an attack.
In October of 1859 occurred one of the most bizarre, and I think saddest, of all the episodes in this continent's short and colorful history: the raid of John Brown upon the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. His plan, as I understood it, was to seize arms from the arsenal and raise a slave rebellion in Virginia. What he accomplished was to affright the town and then sit down and wait for the arrival of federal troops. Commanded by Robert Lee and JEB Stuart, the little company of US Marines stormed the brick engine house where he and his few followers had taken refuge, killed a few, captured the rest, and hauled them off for trial and execution.
There was no slave rebellion. There was a great uproar in both North and South; the latter people demanding he be hung and the former - inexplicably, to me - praising him as a deliverer. I called him a madman then and repeat the charge now; whatever he may have meant to accomplish, John Brown was a fool.