Monday, December 7, 2009


A stunning review of my historical nove, Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story was recently posted on the African American Literature Book Club Website. The site is billed as "The #1 Site for 'Readers of Black Literature'" averaging over 900,000 unique visitors each month.

Renowned African American author and editor, Robert Fleming, wrote the following review:

"What a curious book to be written by Mark L. Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General!

This well-researched historical novel, Am I Not A Man?, goes into the mind of Dred Scott, an illiterate slave who endured the agony of bondage and all of its cruelty from his early days in Virginia until his classic legal battles to over-turn the restrictive laws of slavery. Shurtleff, a white author, never lets us forget these black men and women were human beings. He shows the reader that Dred and his wife, Harriet, were loving, caring people. He takes us into their minds and hearts and trusts us with their unrelenting humanity.

For those unfamiliar with the indecent American institution of slavery, Shurtleff includes a brief history of some of its landmarks of the political, commercial, and legal highlights through the years. The recreated dialogue with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson of the strategies of possessing Blacks as chattel is on par with any of the top-notch practitioners of current historical fiction. Although the novel is sometimes confusing in bouncing around in its narrative timeline, Shurtleff paints a balanced picture of the morally conflicted framers of the Constitution and the creation of the flawed democracy they envisioned. It provides a historical context for the Dred Scott tragedy.

However, the central character is Dred Scott, the young man working in the cotton fields of Southern Virginia, employed later as a house slave, and later retained as an assistant with soldiers. Some Blacks forget the importance of the abolitionist movement, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of which the sympathetic Blow family, owners of Dred and Harriet, made it possible for the Scotts to sue for their freedom. The legal fight was difficult. In January 1850, a jury of whites, including some slave owners, declared Dred and his wife were forever free under the law of Missouri.

Some of the most stirring moments in the novel are the legal war-of-words before the white Justices in the High Court by Roswell Field, a firebrand abolitionist lawyer and defender of fugitive slaves. The abolitionists were determined to push the white political elite to confront the evil of the slavery issue. “I would humbly request that each of you, at some point during your deliberations, consider for just a moment what it would be like to lose your freedom. What it would feel like to be a slave – the chattel of another? What it would do to you to have the majority of those around you consider you as something less than a man? I believe that doing so, you will be at peace and able to fully and fairly do justice for the man who placed fifty years of trust in the system, and you are it.”

When the justice ruled against Dred and overturned the decision of the jury, returning the Scotts to slavery. It is to Shurtleff’s credit as a writer to portray the very real feelings of Dred and Harriet as they learn of the judgment. After the verdict, the sheriff cuffed Dred and said his jailing has to be because the law doesn’t know what to do next. Still, the Scotts survive the shattering ruling. Dred’s death is used by the abolitionists to win liberty for slaves and to influence President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Illuminating, sensitive, and powerful, Shurtleff’s fictional take on Dred Scott asks some timely questions of race and prejudice that have still not been answered."

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Who am I to tell this story? How can I, a white man from Utah possibly understand – let alone convey – what it was to be a SLAVE? Where is my legitimacy?

Six years studying and experiencing everying I possibly could about Dred Scott.

I have walked among the cotton fields and through the marshy swamps listening to the cicadas and feeling the wet heat of “The Olde Place” plantation in Southampton County VA where Dred was born “Sam Blow.”

I have knelt in prayer at the slave cemetery, where Sam’s brother “Dred” is buried, on the wide open grass campus of College in Hunstville, Alabama, which was cleared from the surrounding forests by Dred and his fellow slaves of Peter Blow. I’ve heard the music in my soul as I read the words of the slave prayer on the marker there: “Deep River, my home is over Jordan, Deep River, Lord; I wand to Pass over to Camp Ground.”

I twisted my ankle on the very same uneven bricks of the riverboat quay in St. Louis that Dred trudged up and down thousands of times as a porter to the Blow’s Jefferson Hotel. I have ridden the steamboats and swam in muddy and turbulent waters of the “Father of Waters” – the Mighty Mississippi.

I have felt Dred’s spirit at the remains of Ft. Armstrong on Rock Island Illinois and at the cite of the home of Dred’s second master, Army Surgeon John Emerson, who secured his claim by making Dred swim across the Mississippi and building and occupying a shack on the opposite shore in Davenport, Iowa.

I have wandered the snowy grounds of the beautifully preserved Fort Snelling in Minneapolis-St. Paul where Dred fell in love with Harriett and suffered through extreme winters. Walking under perhaps the same trees (now grow very old) whose youthful leaves might have bowed down as Dred and Harriett walked by hand in hand along the banks of the Minnessota where it flows into the Mississippi.

I have spent many hours in the halls and courtrooms of the Old Missouri Courthouse where Dred won then lost his freedom, and on the Eastern Steps where slave auctions took place.

And I have wept at the grave of Dred Scott at Calvary Cemetery.

I have done all this and yet I feel inadequate and unworthy. But can any of us really understand. Should we even try?

Become Free - then lose it.

Come back with me to 1852 St. Louis.

Read Chapters One and Two of my new novel, Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


“Deep River, my home is over Jordan. Deep River, Lord; I want to Pass over to Camp Ground.” - Slave Prayer on Marker Stone at Slave Cemetery on site of Peter Blow Plantation,
Oakwood College, Huntsville, AL

In 1857, Roger B. Tawney in his 20th year as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, took the bench with his fellow justices in the old Supreme Courtroom inside the U.S. Capitol Bldg. and began to read his ruling in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. It was only the second time in history (after Marbury v. Madison) that the Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress (in this case the Missouri Compromise) to be unconstitutional. But it wasn't that rare action that made the decision notorious – rather it was the extraordinary way in which the very embodiment of justice (“WE the PEOPLE…establish JUSTICE”)leaped beyond the scope of Scott’s claim to declare that a black man is not man and has no rights that a white man is bound to respect!

". . . We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . ." — Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the majority

During the past 150 years, Dred Scott v. Sandford , has been unanimously criticized by historians, law professors and even supreme court justices as the “ghastly error” and likely the worst in the history of SCOTUS. (Why they even got the title wrong!) Justices have sometimes used it as a slur against a majority opinion. For example, Justice Scalia wrote that the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey “was no more legitimate than Dred Scott.”

So why write a book about it? What was it’s significance? Are there lessons to be learned? What impact did it have on the history of the United States of America, on slavery and civil rights? Where are we 150 years later? My goal writing Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story was to bring Dred and Harriett Scott to life and to propel them to the forefront of American History and Heroism and that after reading it, every one of you will think not just of the legal significance of “Dred Scott” but of Dred Scott, the man.

You’ll see that most of Dred’s life was spent on and around great rivers and small streams. In the words of Will Durrant, "Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians...ignore the banks for the river."
As an author of this work of historical fiction, I have celebrated the lives along the banks while documenting the journey upon and across the rivers that have divided this nation.
“The source of the American River is the pure, clear, dream of freedom, and justice and mercy; the lifeblood of a visionary embodiment of human hunger for a better life; the powerful current of this notion, this nation, indelibly carving its course into the landscape of the world.” - Kris Kristofferson, The Source, from the album “American River,” by Jonathan Elias

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My first book

Hi, I'm Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. I recently finished writing my first novel "Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story". I'm very excited to be able to share this inspirational story with all of you. The novel follows the life of the slave Dred Scott that was given his freedom and then had it swiftly taken away again. The book hits shelves on November 3rd and is currently available for pre-order from