Inherently Unequal The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903

Lawrence Goldstone

Walker Books




256 Pages



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Using court records and accounts of the period, Lawrence Goldstone chronicles how "by the dawn of the 20th century the U.S. had become the nation of Jim Crow laws, quasi-slavery, and precisely the same two-tiered system of justice that had existed in the slave era."

By examining decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, as well as other, less renown cases, Goldstone examines the ways in which the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the obvious reality of racism and instead favored business establishments and status quo


Praise for Inherently Unequal

"Goldstone offers a clear, cogent reading of the court's machinations, no small accomplishment since the justices generally rested their opinions on convoluted legal reasoning rather than on broad principles."—The Washington Post

"One of the saddest episodes in American history has been inadequately explored and poorly understood—until now. Lawrence Goldstone's brilliantly written book, Inherently Unequal, traces the post-Reconstruction Supreme Court's slow strangulation of equal rights for African-Americans. It will be a shock to many that the judicial branch, viewed in the modern context as the premier defender of civil rights, was primarily responsible for the nation's descent into a deep, racist inequality that ruined the lives of millions for a century. As Goldstone shows us, Lincoln's great legacy was cynically dismantled by the officeholders best positioned to protect it."—Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, University of Virginia, and author of A More Perfect Constitution

"As with Dark Bargain, Lawrence Goldstone once again adds a much-needed chapter to U.S. history with Inherently Unequal."—Tavis Smiley

"The great puzzle of nineteenth-century American history is why the North waded through blood and gore to free the slaves during the Civil War, only to allow them to be stripped of their civil rights and subject to relentless terror after. Lawrence Goldstone does a brilliant job of showing how the Supreme Court led the way by interpreting the Constitution so as to legalize what was little better than neo-slavery. Inherently Unequal is a valuable corrective for anyone who still believes that judges are above politics or that the Constitution is a clear-cut charter of liberty."—Daniel Lazare, author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy

"An absorbing account of the Supreme Court's role following the Civil War."—Library Journal

"A furious indictment of the Supreme Court as an accessory to the anti-democratic machinations of Gilded Age elites."—Kirkus Reviews

"Comprehensive and remarkably lucid"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Lawrence Goldstone

  • Lawrence Goldstone is the author of Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution, and The Activist: John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Myth of Judicial Review. He lives in Westport, Connecticut.