Political History and Constitutional Importance of the Slaughter House Cases 1873 Research Paper

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Slaughter-House Cases

Impact of the Slaughter-House Cases

The adoption of the constitution of the United States of America faced opposition from groups that feared the takeover of a centralized government. This opposition arose from the fear that this new centralized government would demean and embarrass the states by forcing or administering and contradicting the state's decisions, laws and policies. Opponents of the constitution feared that "the powers granted to the proposed government were not sufficiently guarded, and might be used to encroach upon the liberties of the people" (McClain 18). After the ratification of the constitution by the states the desire for amendments and regulations that restricted the powers of the new government was voiced by representatives of those states.

There was extreme fear that the everyday rights and liberties of citizens of a state would be impacted, restricted and oppressed by a centralized form of government. The desire to protect the rights of citizens of states from the powers of the federal government led to the creation of the first ten amendments. Within these first ten amendments there exists specific restriction upon Congress. Specific content expressed within the amendments affirmed that the rights of citizens of the United States, under the Constitutions should be protected from being violated by the Federal authorities.

When the Civil war ended slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, however there was law in place in certain slave-holding states that contradicted this newly formed and controversial Thirteenth Amendment. This inconsistency of law caused apprehension in a portion of the country (McClain 19). Apprehension was also rooted in the justified suspicion that the rights of the newly freed slaves would not be respected. The first ten amendments protect citizens of The United States from abuse originating in decisions taken by the federal government, but they do not restrict or protect these same citizen (specifically newly-freed slaves), from abuses from the states in which they reside. The Fourteenth Amendment as described in William E. Nelson's book states "Article XIV: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws" ( Nelson 3). The fourteenth Amendment arose from the need to protect these rights of citizens from oppression and injustices that could be carried out by the delegating authorities in states. Some groups however sought to create and establish a broader interpretation for The Fourteenth Amendment in order to protect themselves from powers of the state. The notorious Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 were the first U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the new fourteenth amendment, and they helped clarify and to a certain extend define what the Fourteenth Amendment stood for.

In New Orleans during the Middle of the 19th Century there existed a hazardous health problem that was caused by contamination the population's supply of drinking water. As described by residents of the time period, the water was contaminated and filled with blood, feces, intestines and body parts of animals that were slaughtered by local butchers whose businesses were adjacent to their streams and rivers. It is estimated that about a mile and half upstream from New Orleans one thousand butchers slaughtered over 300,000 animals per year. This unsanitary health practice resulted in the several cholera outbreaks in the City of New Orleans between 1832 and 1869 (Willoughby 177). As a result of these outbreaks the city government recommended that the slaughter houses be moved to a location were the health hazards would not impact residents of New Orleans. The City government however was unsuccessful in attempting to convince butchers to relocate. As a result the city sought the aid of the state legislature; in 1869 the legislature passed a law that obligated all slaughter houses to move southward and away from the city. As part of this act the legislature also obligated all operating butchers and slaughter house businesses to incorporate into the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughter-House Company.

In essence the law enacted by the state legislature called for all slaughter houses to incorporate under the power umbrella of one company, thus creating a huge monopoly. As unfair and awkward as this concept may seem, it was not unheard of, other metropolitan areas around the United States had similar enactments that grouped slaughter houses in a certain location in order to protect the drinking supplies their respective cities. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-house Company essentially ran an enormous slaughter house were they rented out space to butchers so they can perform their business duties while charging them a premium fee. There were strict penalties for those who did not follow the regulations specified in the state enacted law. Animals could not be butchered or slaughter anywhere else in the region, this operation ran uninterrupted and unchallenged for a period of 25 years. The first challenge that this state run monopoly came when more than 400 members of the Butchers' Benevolent Association came together to fight what they perceived to be a great and unfair injustices and abuse of power by the state.

These members of the above mentioned association sued the city in order to stop the takeover of the industry in which they worked. The Butchers' Benevolent Association had no choice but to appeal to the higher courts, these cases ultimately landed in the hands of the Supreme Court of the United States. These legal actions resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States which was authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller. At first glance The Fourteenth Amendment which was enacted primarily to uphold and protect the rights of newly freed slaves for state laws, appears to have little to do with the Slaughter-House Cases, but surprisingly these cases provided the stage for the first test of this fairly new amendment. The particulars surrounding the Slaughter-House Cases appeared to have very little to do with amendments that were enacted after the Civil War because these were created to protect the rights former slaves and the plaintiffs in the Slaughter-House Case were exclusively whites. According to Paula Young Lee "The Slaughter House cases would become the ground on which the nation would first test the meaning and extent of black liberation as articulated in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments"(198). The plaintiffs in the Slaughter-House Cases alleged that several violations of their constitutional rights had occurred. They alleged that the statue being challenged violated the Thirteenth Amendment because it created a system of servitude, as butchers were forced to work for one single privileged company. They also alleged that it was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because according to the plaintiffs it deprived persons of liberty and property without due process of law, while at the same time denying them the equal protection of laws; they also stated that it denied the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States (Willoughby 177). The lower courts all upheld the right of the state to create the monopoly that controlled the meat and slaughter-house industry.

The arguments of the plaintiffs were found to be reasonable by the minority of the court justices when six of the cases were brought before The Sumpreme Court of The United States. The argument of the plaintiffs hinged on the logic that individuals being members of the state in which resided had indeed accepted and adopted the Fourteenth Amendment because first and foremost they recognized to be citizens of not only their home state but also their home country or union, which was of course the United States of America. If they recognized that they were citizens of a Union and gave secondary importance to be citizens of a particular state then their fundamental rights, privileges and immunities established by the federal government should be protected from state enactments which contradicted these. The butcher claimed the enactment established by the State of Louisiana was in contradiction of several clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment, they based their claims on alleged violations of Due Process, Privileges or Immunities and Equal Protection. The plaintiffs in the butcher cases also felt that Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment was not racially exclusive or limited to only protecting the rights of newly freed slaves. The counsel for the plaintiffs John A. Campbell wanted the Justices of the court to embrace and accept a broader interpretation of the fourteenth Amendment and thereby declare the state enacted legislation unconstitutional. Apart from the above mentioned arguments the plaintiffs also wanted the court to rule and show that the constitution should have the right to restrict the police powers of the state.

When the resolution by the Supreme Court was announced…

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