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Dred Scott (Roark, 2002)

James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 476.
The Republican rebuttal to Taney’s decision relied heavily on the brilliant dissenting opinion of Justice Benjamin R. Curtis. Scott was a citizen of the United States, Curtis argued. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, free black men could vote in five states and participated in the ratification process. Scott was free: Because slavery was prohibited in Wisconsin, the “involuntary servitude of a slave, coming into the Territory with his master, should cease to exist.” And the Missouri Compromise was constitutional. The Founders meant exactly what they said: Congress had the power to make “all needful rules and regulations” for the territories, including barring slavery.

But what southern Democrats cheered, northern Democrats found profoundly disturbing. They feared that the Dred Scott decision annihilated not just the Wilmot Proviso but popular sovereignty as well. If Congress did not have the authority to exclude slavery, how could Congress’s creation, a territorial government, assume that right?

By draining the last drop of ambiguity out of popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision jeopardized the ability of the Democratic Party to hold its northern and southern wings together.

Ironically, the Dred Scott decision strengthened the young Republican Party by giving credence to its claim that a hostile Slave Power conspired against northern liberties.
As for Dred Scott, although the Court rejected his suit, he did in the end gain his freedom. In May 1857, Taylor Blow, the son of his first owner, purchased and freed Dred Scott and his family. On September 17, 1858, Dred Scott died in obscurity.


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