Abraham Lincoln on Terri Schiavo

Actually, it’s Abraham Lincoln referring to Dred Scott, but the parallels are striking (HT: Bill Bennett):

“All the powers of earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the Theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him.

One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him, and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key; the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different and distant places; and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced to make the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.”

Dred Scott was a slave who, after moving and living with his master in a free state for a number of years, sued for his freedom after his master died. Initially granted his freedom, his case was appealed to higher and higher courts until, after 10 years, it was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. The Court, choosing the rule of law over the principal of the law, ruled against him, citing among other things that because he was black he could not be a citizen and therefore had no legal standing to bring a case. He was the property of another and his humanity subject to that one’s wishes.

Following the decision, Scott and his wife were purchased by the sons of his former owner (who had supported him throughout the trials) and then freed. He died shortly thereafter. The Court’s decision galvanized the anti-slavery citizenry and was a contributing factor to the events leading to the Civil War.

Lives are given for causes all the time, willingly and unwillingly and sometimes serve to bring the issues into sharp relief. The grinding stones of the theology of the day and of doctrine divorced from principle turn these sacrifices into bitter bread for the communion we may all taste of whether we like it or not.

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