The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Newland history marches on...

My great-grandfather, James A. Newland (at left, 1905 photo), was born in Pennsylvania in 1830. After the Civil War, he migrated through Council Bluffs and Bucksin Joe (a Colorado gold camp) to Deadwood in 1876, where he operated freight outfits (oxen-drawn wagons, “bull teams”) between Cheyenne and Deadwood, and between Ft. Pierre and Deadwood. About 1890, he settled on a farm near Belle Fourche, and laid out the first irrigation project in Dakota Territory, raising hay that he sold to the mines for mule feed. In 1893, he served one term in the South Dakota Senate, where, among many other votes, he voted to allow women to vote in municipal and county elections (Source of the womens' suffrage vote, 1893 So. Dak. Senate Journal).

In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled in the famous “Dred Scott Decision" that since slaves were private property they had no standing to sue for freedom even if they made it to a non-slave state, and further, that they were subject to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits taking property from its owner "without due process". Thus, under federal law, runaway slaves had to be returned to their owners.

We know the preceding paragraphs to be historical fact. What follows is perhaps apocryphal, it having been passed down by folks on back porches swilling corn whiskey, but it has the ring of truth about it.

27-year-old James Newland, in Quaker country in Pennsylvania, was stunned and outraged by the Dred Scott ruling. He, along with his parents, had been a whisper stop on the underground railway for over a generation. He began holding tent meetings.

Then one day, he was stopped while driving his wagon through a random slave-check stop. The cops searched his wagon without permission and discovered a runaway slave hidden therein. Newland was charged with harboring a runaway slave; the runaway slave was charged with being a runaway slave.

Realizing the facts of the case rendered him with no defense, Newland pled guilty to harboring a runaway slave.

The judge, Phatteus Phlaugger Physdunctionous, often called “PP PhD” (whose family also later migrated to South Dakota where his great-grandson currently fancies himself a protector of Republican party principles), sentenced James A. Newland to 45 days in jail, and to probation for a year, during which he was to “take no public role in advocacy of a change in the runaway slave laws, unless it be to advocate strengthening them.” Judge PP said that he had to justify Newland's sentence to the hundreds of juveniles who appeared before him annually "agitating for an end to slavery."

Saying he found it "difficult to abide by a ruling that makes it impossible for me to hold forth honestly on slavery, since even the least uncomplimentary facts about it, on their faces, advocate for its abolition," J. A. Newland barely managed to fulfill his probation and then joined up with the Union Army in the Civil War, after which he headed for Iowa, "where at least the hogs don't pretend to be law-enforcers."

Ironically, the runaway slave found in Newland's wagon pled not guilty to being a runaway slave, and asked for a jury trial on that issue. The jury exonerated him despite Judge Physdunctionous' charge to them that they had no choice but to find him guilty. In fact, no northern jury ever found a runaway slave guilty of being a runaway slave. Such frivolity and flouting of the law has been largely cured by the modern jury-stacking process.

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