Typically told in terms of reconstruction and establishing rights of black Americans after the Civil War, an 1873 court decision about the meat industry (e.g. wet markets, the kind infamous today for spreading COVID19) offers useful insights into modern culture of health and safety in America.
1868 the 14th Amendment was passed to provide and protect emancipated slaves with citizen rights that had been denied them by America.
1869 a set of lawsuits were brought in New Orleans to test the 14th. Five years later (1873) these so-called Slaughterhouse Cases were decided in Supreme Court, undermining civil right protections.
The key to seeing the parallel to today’s “Anti-mask” movement is in reference to slaughterhouses contaminating New Orleans drinking water:
The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) was a supreme court case which became the first to interpret the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. After slaughterhouse practices continued to contaminate New Orleans drinking water, Louisiana state legislature passed an act that allowed the city to create a company which essentially monopolized the slaughterhouse industry. All butchers interested in slaughtering meat had to do so at Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company. The Butchers’ Benevolent Association, an organization of New Orleans butchers, assembled in multiple cases to sue on the grounds that the government, by creating the company, violated their privileges or immunities and deprived them of their liberty and property without due process as protected by the fourteenth amendment. Additionally, they claimed that Crescent city violated the 13th amendment, referring to their actions as “involuntary servitude.” They appealed after losing in all trial cases. The supreme court affirmed and held that neither their 13th or 14th amendment rights had been violated. The narrow reading of Privileges or Immunities in The Slaughterhouse Cases rendered the clause nearly insignificant.
Newly developing science of healthy water found that white slaughterhouse companies were in the practice of systemically wronging residents by dumping waste upstream of the black neighborhoods.
In response to the polluting of the river, a New Orleans grand jury recommended that the slaughterhouses be moved to the southern portion of the city; however, since the majority of the slaughterhouses were outside city limits, the grand jury’s recommendations held little weight. The city later appealed to the state legislature and as a result, the Louisiana legislature passed a law that allowed the city to create a centralized corporation that consolidated all slaughterhouses in New Orleans.
Thus a city tried to regulate local harmful practices by organizing a system that mandated reducing pollution, much in how today we have sewer systems designed to route waste away from drinking water. Perhaps look at it like wet market (slaughterhouse) regulation for health and safety in modern terms of COVID19: Americans recently have tried to demand China shut their wet market down while demanding American ones have to remain open, meaning COVID19 spread in America, which led China to ban American imports of meat… it’s complicated.
Anyway, in response to the novel health and safety mandates of 1869 trying to stop disease contagion, powerful lawyers who had recently tried to fight a war to expand slavery took up that cause again by fabricating a strange defense of white slaughterhouses polluting black neighborhoods.
The argument was privileged whites operating businesses were being treated as slaves when they were forced to pay into social safety measures, and also violated when regulated on health and safety (risks organized into a platform and monitored).
Sound familiar? It should, the occupant of the White House has pushed dangerously false propaganda that compares good safety measures that protect society (wearing masks) to slavery:
“Masks aren’t about public health but social control,” a conservative columnist tweeted, linking to a Federalist piece. “Image of Biden in black mask endorses culture of silence, slavery, and social death.”
The lawyers in 1869 very strategically fought a pitched battle that would ultimately attack and water down the new protections of freed slaves.
The Supreme Court ended up extremely narrowly defining rights and protections from the 14th Amendment.
…in limiting the protection of the privileges and immunities clause, the court unwittingly weakened the power of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the civil rights of blacks.
Let me put this another way, because I often find people confused about the man who led this battle to weaken the 14th: John A. Campbell.
Campbell was openly in favor of owning slaves as a “Jacksonian Democrat” (white supremacist) attorney who was serving on the U.S. Supreme Court before the Civil War.
Then when slave owners declared Civil War to forcefully expand their human trafficking (apparently peaceful protest wasn’t the preference of white supremacists), Campbell resigned his lifetime appointment to join their cause. He abandoned his oath to defend the Constitution in order to fight in the war against his own country… to kill Americans.
He was the only justice to commit treason and his true self became clear as he took the top appointment as Assistant Secretary of War in an attempt to keep alive the violent expansion of slavery.
In October 1862, with the Confederacy struggling to survive, he accepted an appointment as assistant secretary of war, overseeing the Confederacy’s draft laws.
After Campbell lost the war he was imprisoned for six months as the violent traitor he was, which was a far better outcome than the hanging for treason that he clearly deserved.
In 1865 leaders of the war to expand slavery such as Campbell had tried an appeal to Lincoln, begging him for an agreement in the face of imminent military defeat, yet refusing to surrender.
“Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; that we are traitors to your government; that we have forfeited out rights, and are proper subjects for the hangman. Is that not about what your words imply?” With brutal frankness Lincoln replied: “Yes, you have stated the proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it.”
To put this in perspective it was just a few months later, after high death tolls in the war to expand slavery had continued because refusal of the Confederate South to surrender, that Campbell sat in jail.
It was release from jail of this traitor to the Constitution that really should be seen as the exact where and when that Slaughterhouse Cases began.
Released from prison, the treasonous Campbell went straight back to trying to get his shamefully racist ideas into the Supreme Court. This is when he cooked up an extremely crooked lawsuit to challenge the 14th Amendment.
Campbell obviously had an uphill battle in the Slaughterhouse Cases. After all, the states were empowered to enact laws to protect the “health, safety, morals, and welfare” of the citizenry. Clearly, this law related to protecting the people of New Orleans from polluted water.
What did Campbell do? He took the language of the Fourteenth Amendment and created an ingenious argument…that there were certain rights that were so fundamental that the government could not take them away even if the correct procedures were followed.
What was the fundamental right that the Louisiana legislature was infringing upon? That right was economic liberty [of whites that]… trumped the police powers of the state [to protect blacks].
So the whites were arguing under Campbell that blacks gaining rights as citizens should be seen as privileged white people becoming victims, on the “fundamental” concept of white people losing their economic “liberty” to wrong blacks.
When someone in US says they want to pollute others as a fundamental privilege and refuse to wear a mask on the principle that to do so would be “slavery”… please remember the tactics started by pro-slavery white supremacist lawyers in 1873; a way to perpetuate racist war via the courts and destroy civil rights for blacks.
Also keep in mind the New Georgia Encyclopedia doesn’t think it important to mention Campbell was a slave owner.
However, his tax records show in 1841 how Campbell owned eight humans and within five years he had expanded that to fourteen humans enslaved. In 1857, five years after being nominated to the Supreme Court the records show he again purchased three humans and then seven more the following year.
Campbell was firmly in the camp of slavery as the country slid towards Civil War by secession. He was actively engaged in wealth accumulation through human slavery and jumped to the side preserving human trafficking. Moreover he kept it going while leading anti-American forces to expand slavery, as their Secretary of War.
This hopefully gives some important context for the man who drove a Supreme Court case to undermine the 14th and harm blacks. A man who falsely tried to argue government regulation of health measures that improve social welfare and protect black communities are the exact opposite; that good health is slavery.
Perhaps if he were alive today he would be forced to issue an apology like this one recently posted by an ill-informed and angry COVID19 “Anti-mask” protestor:
My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite.
Indeed. Not wearing a mask conveys the opposite of being for freedom of all human persons. Wear your mask to support freedom.