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Dred Scott (Morrison, 2005)

Scholarship
Michael Morrison, “The Road to Secession,” in A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction, ed. Lacy K. Ford (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 157-58.
Like the Compromise of 1850, which was intended to put the section conflict to rest once and for all, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act that was to enshrine the principle of non-intervention as the definitive solution to the territorial issue, the Dred Scott decision failed to accomplish what was expected of it. It annulled a law that had been repealed three years earlier and denied freedom to slaves in an area in which there were no slaves. The decision also placed obstacles in the way of sectional adjustment by stiffening southern extremist demands for constitutional protection. It also strengthened the arguments of those in the South who claimed that territorial popular sovereignty – the ability of a territorial legislature to prohibit slavery – was unconstitutional. That is, Congress cannot delegate a power which is unconstitutional and which it does not possess to the territorial legislature, itself a creature of Congress (Fehrenbacher 1978: 456-7).  

Most importantly, Dred Scott reinforced the belief among northern restrictionists that an aggressive slaveocracy was conspiring to impose slavery first on the territories and ultimately on the nation. By essentially declaring that freedom was local to those states that had abolished it and that slavery could expand anywhere it was not specifically banned, the Court put itself in the indefensible position of pitting the constitutional against the basic American values of liberty and equality. Simply put, under the whip of slaveholders the Court had converted the charter of freedom into a safeguard of slavery.

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