Civil War Talk Radio: October 19, 2007

by Brett Schulte on October 19, 2007 · 0 comments

Air Date: 101907
Subject: Civil War Era Law Cases
Book: Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown
Guest: Paul Finkelman

Summary: Paul Finkelman discusses famous Civil War related law cases.

Brett’s Summary: Paul Finkelman, the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School, was Gerry’s guest in this episode of Civil War Talk Radio.  Early in the show Finkelman discussed the options available to prospective lawyers in mid-19th Century America.  There were two types of law school at the time, proprietary, for profit, schools founded by judges, and the beginnings of law schools at universities.  Lincoln did neither, and instead read on his own.

Lincoln represented Billy the Barber, an African-American, in many cases involving the barber’s real estate dealings.  Finkelman believes this gave Lincoln an appreciation that African-Americans were people too, and were capable of being successful.  However, Lincoln also took on the case of a slave owner named Robert Matson against his runaway slaves.  Finkelman believes Lincoln knew he made a mistake and regretted taking the case, though how he is able to conclude this I’m not sure.  Obviously, with a topic like this, the Dred Scott case was also discussed. It was pointed out that Chief Justice Roger Taney could have simply dismissed the case on the grounds that Scott was not a citizen of Missouri and left it at that.  Instead, according to Finkleman, Taney took a virulent pro-Slavery stand that was legally sound (other than not dismissing the case immediately).

The last portion of the show was a bit difficult to listen to.  Professor Finkelman struck me as a man who refuses to admit he is wrong about anything.  When Gerry pointed out slavery had been declining in Virginia in terms of percentage of the population who were slaves, essentially mortally wounding the argument the professor was trying to make, he simply dismissed the evidence and kept talking.  He frequently started to answer a question long before Gerry finished asking it as well.  I have a very “laid back Midwest” style of interacting with people, so the “in your face East Coast” attitude can, does, and did in this case turn me off when listening to someone.

Despite the last portion of the show, it was an interesting episode.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.

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