1857 – WHAT A YEAR!
1857 – WHAT A YEAR!
by Ken Camilleis
England and France declared war on China. Andrew Johnson (who would later as President become impeached) was in this year elected to the U.S. Senate. Our young country, established as an independent nation for less than a century, was on the brink of a great national conflict. On March 4 of this year, James Buchanan was sworn in to the Presidency. Charles Darwin, after many years of dedicated research, completed his first draft of his “theory of evolution”. This was 1857.
One of the most (if not the most) noteworthy events of 1857 was the decision to rule against Dred Scott. This saga began in 1838 when Scott, a southern slave, was brought back to his home state of Missouri, a slave state. Scott had resided for some two years in Fort Snelling in the “free” territory of Minnesota, where he had married a slave woman who was also owned by Scott’s master, and a child was born to them. In 1846, Scott sued for his freedom and his status as a U.S. citizen on the grounds that his residency in a free territory, under the Missouri Compromise, insulated him from slavery, and that therefore his recapture was unconstitutional. The case dragged on for years, and was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1855. When all was said and done, it was determined that, to Scott’s detriment, there was no statute for making citizens of slaves or descendents of slaves. On March 6, 1857, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney handed down the verdict that Scott was still a slave and thereby had no authority to sue in federal court. It was further argued that any chattel could be captured anywhere within the United States, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in U.S. territories, and that the Missouri Compro-mise was in violation of the U.S. Constitution! Abraham Lincoln at this time gave a speech stressing the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” right of “all men.” The Dred Scott case goes down in history as a decision that accelerated animosity amongst abolitionists and fueled the dissension that eventually led to the Civil War.
In September occurred the great disaster of the S. S. Central America, historically known as the “Ship of Gold”. On September 3, the paddle-wheel steamship set sail from San Francisco Bay enroute to New York, weighted down with some 21 tons of gold in coin and bar form. On September 11, a violent gale swept over the Carolina coast, and by the morning of the 12th, the vessel had sunk to the bottom of the sea, and over 400 pass-engers were drowned. Over a century later, in 1986, the wreckage of the Central America was discovered. Coins recovered from this wreck consisted mainly of large clusters of newly-minted 1857-S double eagles ($20 gold pieces from the San Francisco Mint). The 1986 value of the finds from the Central America measured in the billions of dollars.
On the same day as the demise of the Central America, occurred the Mountain Mead-ows Massacre. This rebellion was staged by Mormons on alert of an Army attack. John D. Lee, an adopted son of Brigham Young, headed the massacre.
The year of 1857 was one of much change in American industry. Elisha Otis built the first passenger elevator, and the first patent for an electric fire alarm was approved. The first gas lamps were built to provide street lighting in St. Louis. The first horse-powered potato planter was patented in 1857. And, it has been said that toilet paper, as we know it today, was first produced in 1857.