How did the Dred Scott Decision contribute to the Civil War?

How did the Dred Scott Decision contribute to the Civil War?


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I have read numerous times that the Dred Scott Decision led to the Civil War in the United States, but I have been unable to find sources to support this. It seems that the Dred Scott Decision chiefly led to other contributing factors such as the split in the Democratic Party and the rise of Lincoln.

I was wondering how, therefore, the decision actually acted as a catalyst to the Civil War, and if there were any books or reputable sources that provide a clear story.


Whole books have been written on this, and I find Frehling's two volume "Road to Disunion" books to be some of the best and most accessible evaluations of the American political landscape (as it evolved into secession) from 1776 to 1861. From the founding documents to secession, he covers a lot of ground to include the Dred Scott decision's ripple effect.

A shorter answer is as follows:

With this Supreme Court decision, abolitionists were provided grist for their public campaign against slavery because the institution of slavery, which some people in non-slave states put up with (so long as it was not legal in their state), was now viewed as being importable beyond its boundaries in the slave states. That meant that the Missouri Compromise might not stand up under the pressures from the Slave States.

That fear of the next Dred Scott decision shocked many in the North who had been content to accept slavery as long as it was confined within its then present borders. It also put the Northern Democrats, such as Stephen A. Douglas, in a difficult position. The Northern wing of the Democratic Party had supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 under the banner of popular sovereignty. They argued that even if Congress did not bar the expansion of slavery into those territories, the residents of those territories could prohibit it by territorial legislation. The Dred Scott decision squarely stated that they could not exercise such prohibition, even though, strictly speaking, that issue was not before the Court.

While some supporters of slavery treated the decision as a vindication of their rights within the union, others treated it as merely a step to spreading slavery throughout the nation, as the Republicans claimed. Convinced that any restrictions on their right to own slaves and to take them anywhere they chose were unlawful, they boasted that the coming decade would see slave auctions on Boston Common. These Southern radicals were ready to split the Democratic Party and - as events showed - the nation on that principle.

Frehling's second volume does a fine job of addressing how the Secessionists in the South pursued their eventual ends, but that summary is sufficient for a short answer.

Why is this important?

The two influences on politics of ideas and their presentation in the press are often significant. When someone gets an idea and beats it to death in the media, they can whip up considerable popular and political support for their position.

  • A classic case is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers campaign that began in the 80's and has resulted in significant changes in the DUI/DWI/Drinking and Driving laws all over the country. The power of an idea and of getting a message out.
  • Another classic is the yellow journalism that got us "Remember the Maine!" and helped grow support for the Spanish American War of 1898.

    The political mileage that the abolitionists got out of this court decision was of value because they took advantage of it through the press and through public rhetoric. The ripple effect of the Supreme Court decision had a contribution (probably unintentional, from the PoV of the seven justices who supported it) to both the pro slavery/secession agenda, and to the abolitionist agenda.


There were a series of compromises1 2 3 during the early 1800's designed to keep a balance between slave and free states. These generally involved Congress drawing a line on a territorial map, and decreeing that slavery would be prohibited above that line. These compromises were viewed by many as necessary to hold the country together.

Dred Scott at a stroke destroyed all those compromises, by ruling that Congress had no authority to outlaw slavery in any US territory. Southerners of course rejoiced at this. However angry northerners flocked to the new Republican Party over the next 4 years (the decision came just after the election of 1856) which had as its main platform the prevention of slavery's expansion into the territories.


Dred Scott Decision: The Case and Its Impact

Interim Archives / Getty Images

Dred Scott v. Sandford, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6, 1857, declared that Black people, whether free or enslaved, could not be American citizens and were thus constitutionally unable to sue for citizenship in the federal courts. The Court’s majority opinion also declared that the 1820 Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that the U.S. Congress could not prohibit enslavement in the U.S. territories that had not attained statehood. The Dred Scott decision was eventually overturned by the 13th Amendment in 1865 and the 14th Amendment in 1868.

Fast Facts: Dred Scott v. Sandford

  • Case Argued: February 11–14, 1856 reargued December 15–18, 1856
  • Decision Issued: March 6, 1857
  • Petitioner: Dred Scott, an enslaved man
  • Respondent: John Sanford, the enslaver of Dred Scott
  • Key Question: Were enslaved American citizens protected under the U.S. Constitution?
  • Majority Decision: Chief Justice Taney with Justices Wayne, Catron, Daniel, Nelson, Grier, and Campbell
  • Dissenting: Justices Curtis and McLean
  • Ruling: The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that enslaved people and their descendants, whether free or not, could not be American citizens and thus had no right to sue in federal court. The Court also ruled the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional and banned Congress from outlawing enslavement in new U.S. territories.

The Dred Scott Decision, 1857

The Dred Scott v. Sandford case (1857) was the most important slavery-related decision in the United States Supreme Court’s history. Coming on the eve of the Civil War, and seven years after the Missouri Compromise of 1850, the decision affected the national political scene, impacted the rights of free blacks, and reinforced the institution of slavery.

The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro- and anti-slavery factions in Congress, primarily addressing the regulation of slavery in the Western Territories. The compromise prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30? north, except within the boundaries of the proposed state of Missouri. The purpose was to balance the Congressional strength of the two factions by making sure an equal number of slave and free states were admitted to the Union.

Dred Scott was a black slave who sued for his freedom in Missouri. Scott had accompanied his late master to army postings in the free states of Illinois, Wisconsin and to the Minnesota Territory, areas where slavery was forbidden by state law governed by the Northwest Ordinance (1787) and the Missouri Compromise. Following decades of Missouri precedents holding that residence in a free jurisdiction led to the emancipation of a slave, the trial court freed Scott.

The Missouri Supreme Court, however, reversed the decision, and overturned earlier precedents. Scott then unsuccessfully brought claim in federal court, and appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Roger Taney, writing for a 7-2 majority, articulated three major conclusions: 1) the decision held that free blacks in the North could never be considered citizens of the United States, and thus were barred from the federal courts 2) the decision declared that the ban in slavery in territories considered part of the Louisiana Purchase was unconstitutional and 3) the decision held that neither the Congress nor territorial governments had the power to ban slavery. Thus, the concept of popular sovereignty, that is, the right of the citizens of the territory to decide whether to be a free or slave territory, was rendered inoperative.

The decision further polarized the American public on the question of slavery. Northern reaction accelerated the rise of the Republican Party and the nomination of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Southern secession and the Civil War followed. The Dred Scott decision, intended to settle the questions of slavery, instead played a role in accelerating the Civil War and events to come, and had the ironic effect of accelerating the emancipation of all blacks.


Confronting Civil War Revisionism: Why The South Went To War

The rewriting of history in any area is possible only if: (1) the public does not know enough about specific events to object when a wrong view is introduced or (2) the discovery of previously unknown historical material brings to light new facts that require a correction of the previous view. However, historical revisionism – the rewriting “of an accepted, usually long-standing view… especially a revision of historical events and movements” 1 – is successful only through the first means.

Over the past sixty years, many groups, exploiting a general lack of public knowledge about particular movements or events, have urged upon the public various revisionist views in order to justify their particular agenda. For example, those who use activist courts to advance policies they are unable to pass through the normal legislative process defend judicial abuse by asserting three historically unfounded doctrines: (1) the judiciary is to protect the minority from the majority (2) the judiciary exists to review and correct the acts of elective bodies and (3) the judiciary is best equipped to “evolve” the culture to the needs of an ever-changing society. These claims are directly refuted by original constitutional writings, especially The Federalist Papers. (See also the WallBuilders’ book, Restraining Judicial Activism.)

Likewise, those who pursue a secular public square seek to justify their agenda by asserting that the Founding Fathers: (1) were atheists, agnostics, and deists, and (2) wrote into the Constitution a strict separation of church and state requiring the exclusion of religious expressions from the public arena. These claims are also easily rebuttable through the Founders’ own writings and public acts. (See also the WallBuilders’ book, Original Intent.)

A third example of historical revisionism involves the claim that the 1860-1861 secession of the Southern States which caused the Civil War was not a result of the slavery issue but rather of oppressive federal economic policies. For example, a plaque in the Texas State Capitol declares:

Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united together in an organization called “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm, and love of justice can exert its influence. We therefore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals to honor our veterans to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and to always act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors. (emphasis added)

Other sources make the same false claim, 2 but four notable categories of Confederate records disprove these claims and indisputably show that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was indisputably the driving reason for the formation of the Confederacy.

1. Southern Secession Documents

From December 1860 through August 1861, the southern states met individually in their respective state conventions to decide whether to secede from the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to decide in the affirmative, and its secession document repeatedly declared that it was leaving the Union to preserve slavery:

[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding [i.e., northern] states to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations. . . . [T]hey have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery. . . . They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes [through the Underground Railroad]. . . . A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States [Abraham Lincoln] whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common government because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. . . . The slaveholding states will no longer have the power of self-government or self-protection [over the issue of slavery] . . . 3

Following its secession, South Carolina requested the other southern states to join them in forming a southern Confederacy, explaining:

We . . . [are] dissolving a union with non-slaveholding confederates and seeking a confederation with slaveholding states. Experience has proved that slaveholding states cannot be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding states. . . . The people of the North have not left us in doubt as to their designs and policy. United as a section in the late presidential election, they have elected as the exponent of their policy one [Abraham Lincoln] who has openly declared that all the states of the United States must be made Free States or Slave States. . . . In spite of all disclaimers and professions [i.e., measures such as the Corwin Amendment, written to assure the southern states that Congress would not abolish slavery], there can be but one end by the submission by the South to the rule of a sectional anti-slavery government at Washington and that end, directly or indirectly, must be the emancipation of the slaves of the South. . . . The people of the non-slaveholding North are not, and cannot be safe associates of the slaveholding South under a common government. . . . Citizens of the slaveholding states of the United States! . . . South Carolina desires no destiny separate from yours. . . . We ask you to join us in forming a Confederacy of Slaveholding States. 4

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede, announcing:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. . . . [A] blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution [slavery], a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787. [On July 13, 1787, when the nation still governed itself under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance (which Mississippi here calls the “well-known Ordinance of 1787”). That Ordinance set forth provisions whereby the Northwest Territory could become states in the United States, and eventually the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were formed from that Territory. As a requirement for statehood and entry into the United States, Article 6 of that Ordinance stipulated: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.”
When the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers re-passed the “Northwest Ordinance” to ensure its continued effectiveness under the new Constitution. Signed into law by President George Washington on August 7, 1789, it retained the prohibition against slavery.
As more territory was gradually ceded to the United States (the Southern Territory – Mississippi and Alabama the Missouri Territory – Missouri and Arkansas etc.), Congress applied the requirements of the Ordinance to those new territories. Mississippi had originally entered the United States under the requirement that it not allow slavery, and it is here objecting not only to that requirement of its own admission to the United States but also to that requirement for the admission of other states.]. . . It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves and refuses protection to that right on the high seas [Congress banned the importation of slaves into America in 1808], in the territories [in the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854], and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction. . . . It advocates Negro equality, socially and politically. . . . We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property [i.e., slaves] worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers to secure this as well as every other species of property. 5

(Notice that the Union’s claim that blacks and whites were equal both “socially and politically” was a claim too offensive for southern Democrat states to tolerate.)

Following its secession, Mississippi sent Fulton Anderson to the Virginia secession convention, where he told its delegates that Mississippi had seceded because they had unanimously approved a document “setting forth the grievances of the Southern people on the slavery question.” 6

On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede. In its preliminary resolutions setting forth reasons for secession, it acknowledged:

All hope of preserving the Union upon terms consistent with the safety and honor of the Slaveholding States has been finally dissipated by the recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment in the Free States. 7

On January 11, 1861, Alabama became the fourth state to secede. Like the three states before her, Alabama’s document cited slavery and it also cited the 1860 election victory of the Republicans as a further reason for secession, specifically condemning . . .

. . . the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America by a sectional party [the Republicans], avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions [slavery] and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama . . . 8

Georgia similarly invoked the 1860 Republican victory as a cause for secession, explaining:

A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the federal government has been committed [i.e., the Republican Party] will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia [in favor of secession]. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican Party under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. . . . The prohibition of slavery in the territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [Republican] leaders and applauded by its followers. . . . [T]he abolitionists and their allies in the northern states have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions [i.e., slavery]. 9

Why was the Republican election victory a cause for secession? Because the Republican Party had been formed in May of 1854 on the almost singular issue of opposition to slavery (see WallBuilders’ work, American History in Black and White). Only six years later (in the election of 1860), voters gave Republicans control of the federal government, awarding them the presidency, the House, and the Senate.

The Republican agenda was clear, for every platform since its inception had boldly denounced slavery. In fact, when the U. S. Supreme Court delivered the 1857 Dred Scott ruling protecting slavery and declaring that Congress could not prohibit it even in federal territories, 10 the Republican platform strongly condemned that ruling and reaffirmed the right of Congress to ban slavery in the territories. 11 But setting forth an opposite view, the Democrat platform praised the Dred Scott ruling 12 and the continuation of slavery 13 and also loudly denounced all anti-slavery and abolition efforts. 14

The antagonistic position between the two parties over the slavery issue was clear so when voters gave Republicans control of the federal government in 1860, southern slave-holding Democrat states saw the proverbial “handwriting on the wall” and promptly left the United States before Republicans could make good on their anti-slavery promises. It was for this reason that so many of the seceded states referenced the Republican victory in their secession documents.

It was not just southern Democrats who viewed the election of Lincoln and the Republicans as the death knell for slavery many northern Democrats held the same view. In fact, New York City Democrat Mayor Fernando Wood not only attacked the Republican position on slavery but he also urged New York City to join with the South and secede, explaining:

With our aggrieved brethren of the Slave States, we have friendly relations and a common sympathy. We have not participated in the warfare upon their constitutional rights [of slaveholding] or their domestic institutions [slavery]. . . . It is certain that a dissolution [secession of the State of New York from the Union] cannot be peacefully accomplished except by the consent of the [Republican New York] Legislature itself. . . . [and] it is not probable that a partisan [Republican] majority will consent to a separation. . . . [So] why should not New York City, instead of supporting by her contributions in revenue two-thirds of the expenses of the United States, become also equally independent [i.e., secede]? . . . In this she would have the whole and united support of the southern states. 15

Other northern Democrats also assailed the anti-slavery positions of the Republicans – including Samuel Tilden (a New York state assemblyman and later the chair of the state Democrat Party, state governor, and then presidential candidate). Tilden affirmed that southern secession be could halted only if Republicans publicly abandoned their anti-slavery positions:

[T]he southern states will not by any possibility accept the avowed creed of the Republican Party as the permanent policy of the federative government as to slavery. . . . Nothing short of the recession [drawing back] of the Republican Party to the point of total and absolute non-action on the subject of slavery in the states and territories could enable it to reconcile to itself the people of the South. 16

Even the editorial page of the New York World endorsed the Democrats’ pro-slavery positions and condemned Republicans:

We cannot ask the South – we will not ask anybody – to live contentedly under a government . . . which burdens white men with oppressive debt and grinding taxation to try an unconstitutional experiment of giving freedom to Negroes. . . . A proposal for an abolition peace can never gain a hearing in the South. If the Abolition Party [Republicans] continues in power, the separation is final, [both] in feeling and in fact. 17

However, returning to an examination of southern secession documents, on January 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth state to secede. Georgia then dispatched Henry Benning to Virginia to encourage its secession. At the Virginia convention, Benning explained to the delegates:

What was the reason that induced George to take the step of secession? That reason may be summed up in one single proposition: it was a conviction – a deep conviction on the part of Georgia – that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction was the main cause. 18

On January 26, 1861, Louisiana became the sixth state to secede. Days later, Texas was scheduled to hold its secession convention, and Louisiana sent Commissioner George Williamson to urge Texas to secede. Williamson told the Texas delegates:

Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern Confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery. . . . Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws, and institutions. . . . and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. . . . The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery if Texas either did not secede or, having seceded, should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy. . . . As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation [Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833 by 1843, southern statesmen were alleging – without evidence – that Great Britain was involved in a plot to abolish slavery in America. Southern voices therefore called for the immediate annexation of pro-slavery Texas into the United States in order to increase pro-slavery territory, but anti-slavery leaders in Congress – including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster – opposed that annexation. Their opposition was initially successful and in his diary entry for June 10 & 17, 1844, John Quincy Adams enthused: “The vote in the United States Senate on the question of [admitting Texas] was, yeas, 16 nays, 35. I record this vote as a deliverance, I trust, by the special interposition of Almighty God. . . . The first shock of slave democracy is over. Moloch [a pagan god requiring human sacrifices] and Mammon [the god of riches] have sunk into momentary slumber. The Texas treason is blasted for the hour.” That victory, however, was only temporary in 1845, Texas was eventually admitted as a slaveholding state.] not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slaveholding states are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her a theatre for abolition emissaries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities. . . . and taking it as the basis of our new government, we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy . . . 19

Williamson’s encouragement to the Texans turned out to be unnecessary, for on February 1, 1861, even before he arrived from Louisiana, Texas had already become the seventh state to secede. In its secession document, Texas announced:

[Texas] was received as a commonwealth, holding, maintaining, and protecting the institution known as Negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within [Texas] – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding states of the Confederacy. . . . In all the non-slave-holding states . . . the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party [i.e., the Republican Party] . . . based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these southern states and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of divine law. They demand the abolition of Negro slavery throughout the Confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and Negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us so long as a Negro slave remains in these states. . . . By the secession of six of the slave-holding states, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North or unite her destinies with the South. 20

On April 17, 1861, Virginia became the eighth state to secede. It, too, acknowledged that the “oppression of the southern slave-holding states” (among which it numbered itself) had motivated its decision. 21

On May 8, 1861, Arkansas became the ninth state to join the Confederacy. Albert Pike (a prominent Arkansas newspaper owner and author of numerous legal works who became a Confederate general) explained why secession was unavoidable:

No concessions would now satisfy (and none ought now to satisfy) the South but such as would amount to a surrender of the distinctive principles by which the Republican Party coheres [exists], because none other or less would give the South peace and security. That Party would have to agree that in the view of the Constitution, slaves are property – that slavery might exist and should be legalized and protected in territory hereafter to be acquired to the southwest [e.g., New Mexico, Arizona, etc.], and that Negroes and mulattoes cannot be citizens of the United States nor vote at general elections in the states. . . . For that Party to make these concessions would simply be to commit suicide and therefore it is idle to expect from the North – so long as it [the Republican Party] rules there – a single concession of any value. 22

As Pike knew, the federal government under the Republicans was unwilling to abandon its anti-slavery positions therefore the only recourse for the guarantee of continued slavery in Arkansas was secession – which Arkansas did.

Eventually, North Carolina and Tennessee became the tenth and eleventh states to secede, thus finishing the formation of the new nation that titled itself the Slave-Holding Confederate States of America. Southern secession documents indisputably affirm that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the driving force in its secession and thus a primary cause of the Civil War.

2. The Declarations of Congressmen who left Congress to Join the Confederacy

Beginning on January 21, 1861, southern Democrats serving in Congress began resigning en masse to join the Confederacy. During this time, many stood in their respective federal legislative chambers and delivered their farewell statements unequivocally affirming what the secession documents clearly declared.

For example, Democrat U. S. Senator Alfred Iverson of Georgia bluntly told his peers:

I may safely say, however, that nothing will satisfy them [the seceded states] or bring them back short of a full and explicit recognition and guarantee of the safety of their institution of domestic slavery. 23

Democrat U. S. Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia (soon to become the Secretary of State for the Confederacy, and then a general in the Confederate Army) declared that the seceded South would return to the Union only if their pro-slavery demands were agreed to:

What do these Rebels demand? First, that the people of the United States shall have an equal right to emigrate and settle in the present or an future acquired territories with whatever property they may possess (including slaves). . . . The second proposition is that property in slaves shall be entitled to the same protection from the government of the United States, in all of its departments, everywhere, which the Constitution confers the power upon it to extend to any other property. . . . We demand in the next place . . . that a fugitive slave shall be surrendered under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 without being entitled either to a writ of habeas corpus or trial by jury or other similar obstructions of legislation. . . . Slaves – black “people,” you say – are entitled to trial by jury. . . . You seek to outlaw $4,000,000,000 of property [slaves] of our people in the territories of the United States. Is not that a cause of war? . . . My distinguished friend from Mississippi [Mr. Jefferson Davis], another moderate gentleman like myself, proposed simply to get a recognition that we had the right to our own – that man could have property in man – and it met with the unanimous refusal even of the most moderate, Union-saving, compromising portion of the Republican party. . . . Mr. Lincoln thus accepts every cardinal principle of the Abolitionists yet he ignorantly puts his authority for abolition upon the Declaration of Independence, which was never made any part of the public law of the United States. . . . Very well you not only want to break down our constitutional rights – you not only want to upturn our social system – your people not only steal our slaves and make them freemen to vote against us – but you seek to bring an inferior race into a condition of equality, socially and politically, with our own people. 24 (emphasis added)

Democrat U. S. Senator Clement Clay of Alabama (soon to become a foreign diplomat for the Confederacy) also expounded the same points:

Not a decade, nor scarce a lustrum [five year period], has elapsed since [America’s] birth that has not been strongly marked by proofs of the growth and power of that anti-slavery spirit of the northern people which seeks the overthrow of that domestic institution [slavery] of the South, which is not only the chief source of her prosperity but the very basis of her social order and state polity. . . . No sentiment is more insulting or more hostile to our domestic tranquility, to our social order, and our social existence, than is contained in the declaration that our Negroes are entitled to liberty and equality with the white man. . . . To crown the climax of insult to our feelings and menace of our rights, this party nominated to the presidency a man who not only endorses the platform but promises in his zealous support of its principles to disregard the judgment of your courts [i.e., Lincoln had indicated that he would ignore the Supreme Court’s egregious Dred Scott decision], the obligations of your Constitution, and the requirements of his official oath, by approving any bill prohibiting slavery in the territories of the United States. 25

Democrat U. S. Senator John Slidell of Louisiana (soon to be a Confederate diplomat to France and Great Britain), echoed the same grievances:

We all consider the election of Mr. Lincoln, with his well-known antecedents and avowed [anti-slavery] principles and purposes . . . as conclusive evidence of the determined hostility of the Northern masses to our institutions. We believe that he conscientiously entertains the opinions which he has so often and so explicitly declared, and that having been elected on the [anti-slavery] issues thus presented, he will honestly endeavor to carry them into execution. While now [as a result of secession] we have no fears of servile insurrection [i.e. a slave revolt], even of a partial character, we know that his inauguration as President of the United States, with our assent, would have been considered by many of our slaves as the day of their emancipation. 26

Democrat U. S. House Representative William Yancey (who became a Confederate diplomat to Europe and then a Confederate Senator) similarly complained:

[The North is] united in pronouncing slavery a political and social evil. . . . There exists but one party that, either in spirit or sentiment, manifests any disposition to stand by the South and the Constitution, and that is the Democratic Party. . . . The institution of slavery. . . . exists for the benefit of the South and is its chief source of wealth and power and now in the hour of its peril – assailed by the great Northern antagonistic force [the Republicans and abolitionists] – it must look to the South alone for protection. . . . The question then, naturally arises, what protection have we against the arbitrary course of the Northern majority? . . . The answer is . . . withdraw from it [i.e., secede]! 27

Perhaps the no-holds-barred pro-slavery position of Democrats and southern states was best summarized by Democrat U. S. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana (who became the first Attorney General of the Confederacy, then its Secretary of War, and finally its Secretary of State), who declared:

I never have admitted any power in Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories anywhere, upon any occasion, or at any time. 28 (emphasis added)

Once the South seceded and organized its Confederate government, it immediately sought official diplomatic recognition from Great Britain and France, wrongly believing that by halting the export of Southern cotton into those nations they could strong-arm them into an official recognition of the Confederacy. But Great Britain and Europe already held large stores of cotton in reserve and also had access to textile imports from other nations, so the poorly conceived Confederate plan was unsuccessful.

France had been willing to extend official recognition to the Confederacy but would not do so unless Great Britain did the same. But Charles Francis Adams (U. S. Minister to England, and the son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams) rallied anti-slavery forces in Europe and England to successfully lobby Great Britain not to extend official recognition to the Confederacy. Those early diplomatic successes by the Union were bolstered by President Lincoln’s 1862 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the American states in rebellion – an act very popular among working-class Britons. By October 1863, the Confederacy, not having received the official support it so badly needed, expelled British representatives from southern states.

Although Great Britain never extended official recognition, she did indirectly assist the South in many ways, including supplying the Confederacy with naval cruisers that pillaged Union merchant shipping and also providing weapons to southern troops, including the Whitworth rifle (considered one of the most accurate rifles in the Civil War). A number of Britons even crossed the ocean to serve in the Confederate Army and in some British ranks, the sympathy for the Confederacy was so strong that after popular Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot down by his own troops, the mourning was just as visible in parts of England as it had been throughout the Confederacy. Some in the British press even likened the death of Jackson to that of their own national hero, Lord Nelson and a British monument to General Jackson was even commissioned, paid for, and transported to Richmond, Virginia by Confederate sympathizers in Great Britain.

Christian leaders in France – seeing Britain’s unofficial support for the slave-holding Confederacy – dispatched a fiery letter to British clergy, strongly urging them to oppose every British effort to help the Confederacy. As the French clergy explained:

No more revolting spectacle has ever been before the civilized world than a Confederacy – consisting mainly of Protestants – forming itself and demanding independence, in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, with a professed design of maintaining and propagating slavery. The triumph of such a cause would put back the progress of Christian civilization and of humanity a whole century. 29

Foreign observers clearly saw what southern Democrat U. S. Representatives and Senators in Congress had already announced: the Civil War was the result of the South’s desire to perpetuate slavery.

3. The Confederate Constitution

On February 9, 1861 (following the secession of the seventh state), the seceded states organized their new Confederate government, electing Jefferson Davis (a resigned Democrat U. S. Senator from Mississippi) as their national president and Alexander Stephens (a resigned Democrat U. S. Representative from Georgia) as their national vice-president. On March 11 (only a week after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President [Confederate apologists not only claim that slavery was not the central issue to the Confederacy but they also frequently portray Abraham Lincoln as a dictator, tyrant, atheist, homosexual, incompetent, drunk, etc. To “prove” this view, they rely heavily on The Real Lincoln by Thomas Dilorenzo (2002), The Real Lincoln by Charles Minor (1901), and Herndon’s Lincoln by William H. Herndon (1888). These three books (and a few others) portray Lincoln in a negative light, but literally hundreds of other scholarly biographies written about Lincoln – including by Pulitzer Prize-winning historians such as Carl Sandburg, Ida Tarbell, Garry Wills, Merrill Peterson, Don Fehrenbacher, and others – reached an opposite conclusion.
A similar corollary would be to study the life of Jesus only by reading The DaVinci Code or The Last Temptation of Christ, or to study the life of George Washington only by using W. E. Woodward’s George Washington: The Image and the Man. In both cases, those writings present a view of that person but hundreds of other writings present an opposite and more accurate view so, too, with Lincoln. The view of Lincoln presented by Confederate apologists is indeed a view, but it is contradicted by scores of other writers who, after examining all the historical evidence, reached an opposite conclusion.]), a constitution was adopted for the new confederacy of slave-holding states – a constitution that explicitly protected slavery in numerous clauses:

ARTICLE I, Section 9, (4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.
ARTICLE IV, Section 2, (1) The citizens of each state . . . shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any state of this Confederacy with their slaves and other property and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.
ARTICLE IV, Section 2, (3) [A] slave or other person held to service or labor in any state or territory of the Confederate States under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall . . . be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs.
ARTICLE IV, Section 3, (3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory. . . . In all such territory, the institution of Negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States. 30

Ironically, southern apologists claim that the Confederacy was formed to preserve “states’ rights,” yet the Confederacy expressly prohibited any state from exercising its own “state’s right” to end slavery. Clearly, the Confederacy’s real issue was the preservation of slavery at all costs – even to the point that it constitutionally forbade the abolition of slavery by any of its member states.

4. Declaration of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens

On March 21, 1861 (less than two weeks after the Confederacy had formed its constitution), Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens delivered a policy speech setting forth the purpose of the new government. That speech was entitled “African Slavery: The Corner-Stone of the Southern Confederacy.” In it, Stephens first acknowledged that the Founding Fathers – even those from the South – had never intended for slavery to remain in America:

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature – that it was wrong in principle – socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent [temporary] and pass away. 31

What did Vice-President Stephens and the new Confederate nation think about these anti-slavery ideas of the Founding Fathers?

Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. . . . and the idea of a government built upon it. . . . Our new government [the Confederate States of America] is founded upon exactly the opposite idea its foundations are laid – its cornerstone rests – upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. That slavery – subordination to the superior [white] race – is his natural and moral condition. This – our new [Confederate] government – is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 32 (emphasis added)

Notice that by the title (as well as the content) of his speech, Confederate Vice-President Stephens affirmed that slavery was the central issue distinguishing the Confederacy.

Were Economic Policies a Major Factor in Secession?

Many southern apologists assert that the primary cause of the Civil War was unjust economic policies imposed on the South by northerners in Congress, 33 but secession records refute that claim. In fact, of the eleven secession documents, only five mention economic issues – and each was in direct conjunction with slavery. For example:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. 34 MISSISSIPPI

Texas [and] Louisiana . . . have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands peculiarly adapted to slave labor and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. 35 LOUISIANA

They [the northern abolitionists in Congress] have impoverished the slave-holding states by unequal and partial legislation [attempting to abolish slavery], thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance. 36 TEXAS

We had shed our blood and paid our money for its [slavery’s] acquisition. . . . [But b]y their [the North’s] declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property [i.e., slaves] in the common territories of the Union. . . . To avoid these evils, we . . . will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquility [by forming the Confederacy]. 37 GEORGIA

We prefer, however, our system of industry . . . by which starvation is unknown and abundance crowns the land – by which order is preserved by an unpaid police and many fertile regions of the world where the white man cannot labor are brought into usefulness by the labor of the African, and the whole world is blessed by our productions. 38 SOUTH CAROLINA

Clearly, even the economic reasons set forth by the South as causes for secession were directly related to slavery. Therefore, to claim that economic policies and not slavery was the cause of the Civil War is to make a distinction where there is no difference.

Numerous categories of official Confederate documents affirm that slavery was indeed the primary issue that drove the secession movement and was central to the rebellion it is therefore blatant and unmitigated revisionism to assert – as do Confederate apologists – that “one of the most important” of the “truths of history” is “that the War Between the States [Many southerners ardently insist on describing the conflict as “The War Between the States” and strenuously object to use of the descriptor “Civil War” (see, for example, “Let’s Say ‘War Between The States’ “ (at: https://www.civilwarpoetry.org/FAQ/wbts.html) ). However, cursory examinations of dozens of Confederate documents, as well as histories of the war written by Confederates immediately following the conflict, demonstrate that the descriptor they themselves most frequently used was “Civil War.” (Other descriptors used much less often by southern authors include “War Between the States,” “War of Southern Secession,” and “War for Southern Independence.”) Therefore, the assertion that the term “Civil War” is an inaccurate or biased title for the conflict is refuted by an examination of Confederate soldiers and historians who lived at the time of that conflict.] was not a rebellion [While the question of whether the conflict constituted a “rebellion” was not addressed by this work, a simple query raises a significant implication: If the “war between the states” was not a “rebellion” (as modern southern apologists assert), then why did southern leaders during the Civil War describe themselves and other southern participants as “Rebels” – a derivate of the word “rebellion”? The simple descriptor “Rebels” used by the Confederates themselves certainly suggests that they certainly viewed the Civil War as a “Rebellion.”] nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” 39

1.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, © 2004, by Houghton Mifflin Company.

2. “Derby, Kansas Middle School Suspension Denounced by Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Sons of Confederate Veterans (at: https://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/TNMAURY/1998-05/0895312266) which declares “[T]he War Between the States was fought over issues such as the rights of individual states to set their own tariffs, establish their own governments, and receive full profit from their agricultural production. . . . the question of slavery was brought into the war by Lincoln in late 1862 as an emotional one to bolster the sagging Northern war effort . . .” and “Children of the Confederacy: Creed,” United Daughters of the Confederacy (at: https://www.hqudc.org/CofC/index.html) which declares “We, therefore pledge ourselves . . . to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is, that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery)” etc.

3.Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), pp.15-16, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” December 24, 1860.

4.Convention of South Carolina, “Address of South Carolina to Slaveholding States,” Teaching American History, December 25, 1860 (at: https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=433).

5. “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, January 9, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/mississippi_declaration.asp).

6. Addresses Delivered Before the Virginia State Convention, February 1861 (Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861), “Address of Hon. Fulton Anderson, of Mississippi,” p. 7.

7. Orville Victor, The History, Civil, Political and Military, of the Southern Rebellion (New York: James D. Torrey, 1861), Vol. 1, p. 194, Florida, “Preliminary Resolution Prior to Secession,” January 7, 1861.

8. Orville Victor, The History, Civil, Political, and Military, of the Southern Rebellion (New York: James D. Torrey, 1861) Vol. 1, p. 195, “An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Alabama and the other States united under the compact styled ‘The Constitution of the United States of America,’” January 11, 1861.

9. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Georgia to Secede from the Federal Union, January 29, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/georgia_declaration.asp).

10. Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U. S. 393, at 449-52 (1856). The Dred Scott decision is arguably the first example of judicial activism by the Supreme Court: it struck down the congressional law of 1820 prohibiting the extension of slavery into certain federal territories.

11. Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties, 1789-1905 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1906 original reprint 1971), p. 98, Republican Platform of 1856.

12. See, for example, the Democrat Platform following the Dred Scott decision not only was there no condemnation of decision, but the platform instead declared: “The Democrat Party will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States upon these questions of constitutional law.” McKee, Platforms, p. 108.

13. See, for example, the Democrat Platform of 1856 declaring: “That Congress has no power under the Constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States. . . . [And] the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made. . . . [T]he only sound and safe solution of the ‘slavery question.’ . . . [is] non-interference by Congress with slavery in state and territory, or in the District of Columbia.” McKee, Platforms, pp. 91-92.

14. See, for example, the Democrat Platform of 1856 declaring: “All efforts of the abolitionists, or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union.” McKee, Platforms, p. 91.

15. “Civil War Era: Mayor Wood’s Recommendation of the Secession of New York City,” TeachingAmericanHistory.org, January 6, 1861 (at: https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=435).

16. The Union! It’s Dangers! And How they can be Averted. Letters from Samuel J. Tilden to Hon. William Kent (New York: 1860), pp. 14-15.

17. William P. Rogers, The Three Secession Movements in the United States (Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1876), pp. 16-17, quoting an editorial in the New York World, September 1, 1864, “The Democratic Platform.”

18. Addresses Delivered Before the Virginia State Convention, February 1861 (Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861), “Address of Hon. Henry L. Benning, of Georgia,” p. 21.

19. Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, E. W. Winkler, editor (Austin Printing Company, 1912), pp. 122-123, address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana, February 11, 1861. See also “Address of George Williamson to the Texas Secessiono Convention,” American Civil War.com (at: https://americancivilwar.com/documents/williamson_address.html).

20. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/texas_declaration.asp).

21. “An Ordinance to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, April 17, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/ordinances_secession.asp).

22. Southern Pamphlets on Secession, November 1860 – April 1861, Jon Wakelyn, editor (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 334, 338, “State or Province? Bond or Free?” by Albert Pike, March 4, 1861.

23. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 589, January 28, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), p. 214, farewell speech of Alfred Iverson, January 28, 1861.

24. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), pp. 268-270, January 7, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 148-152, 167, 169, 170-171, 172, farewell speech of Robert Toombs, January 7, 1861.

25. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 486, January 21, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 202, 204, farewell speech of Clement Clay, January 21, 1861.

26. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 721, February 4, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 222-223, farewell speech of John Slidell, February 4, 1861.

27. The Secession Crisis, 1860-1861, edited by P. J. Staudenraus (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963), pp. 16-18, speech of William Yancey, delivered at Columbus, Georgia, in 1855.

28. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 238, January 3, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 222-223, speech of Judah P. Benjamin, January 3, 1861.

29. William J. Jackman, History of the American Nation (Chicago: K Gaynor, 1911), Vol. 4, p. 1124.

30. “Constitution of the Confederate States March 11, 1861,” Avalon Project (at: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp). See also Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), pp. 98-99.

31. Echoes From The South (New York: E. B. Treat & Co., 1866), p. 85. See also The Pulpit and Rostrum: Sermons, Orations, Popular Lectures, &c. (New York: E. D. Barker, 1862), pp. 69-70, “African Slavery, the Cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy,” by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy.

32. Echoes From The South, pp. 85-86. See also The Pulpit and Rostrum, pp. 69-70, “African Slavery, the Cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy,” by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy.

33. Mike Scruggs, “Understanding the Causes of the Uncivil War,” Georgia Heritage Council, June 4, 2005 (at: https://georgiaheritagecouncil.org/site2/commentary/scruggs-causes-uncivil-war030607.phtml). See also Charles Oliver, “Southern Nationalism – United States Civil War,” Reason, August, 2001 (at: https://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1568/is_4_33/ai_77010131/pg_1?tag=artBodycol1), where he is talking about Charles Adams viewing “the Civil War as a fight about taxes, specifically tariffs.”

34. “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union,” The Civil War Home Page, January 9, 1861 (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/mississippi_declaration.asp).

36. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/texas_declaration.asp).

37. “Georgia Declaration of Secession,” The Civil War Home Page, January 29, 1861 (at: https://www.civil-war.net/pages/georgia_declaration.asp).

38. Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), p. 15, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” December 24, 1860.


The Many Errors of the Dred Scott Decision

The 1857 Dred Scott Decision is recognized by many as the worst Supreme Court decision in history. It is the only one to be overturned by a civil war. In that decision, the Court ruled that a person of African descent could never be a U.S. citizen and, so, could not petition the courts for freedom from slavery. The lies in this decision are the same lies we see today in Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT can be described as seeing everything through the prism of race and, furthermore, that the United States is and has always been structurally racist. The proposition that the United States was racist from the beginning isn’t original to CRT. This proposition was very much part of the Dred Scott Decision. The only difference was that the author of the Dred Scott Decision thought racism was commendable. CRT has been criticized in general for elevating storytelling over fact, as the Dred Scott Decision was criticized. A review of the Dred Scott Decision is, therefore, timely.

The right to petition a court for freedom from slavery was a long-established common law right brought into this country from England. There were more than a thousand freedom cases prior to Dred Scott, including some that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the earliest was by Elizabeth Freeman (”Mumbet”), who petitioned a Massachusetts court for her freedom in 1781. Hundreds of these cases from Maryland, the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court are maintained in a database sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This database is named “Oh say can you see,” to honor Francis Scott Key, the author of our national anthem, who as a lawyer represented many of the petitioners.

About a hundred cases arising in Virginia are archived by the Library of Virginia, some dating back to the Colonial period. Another three hundred cases arising in the St. Louis circuit can be found in a database sponsored by the National Park Service. A friend of mine from Louisiana, of French and German ancestry, told me about one of the more famous freedom cases from that state.

The case involved a servant girl who accompanied a relative of his on a trip to France. It was determined, on her return, that having put one foot on free soil, she became a free person and could not be reenslaved. The right of persons held as slaves to petition the courts for freedom wasn’t questioned until the late antebellum period. Then, positions on slavery hardened.

The Dred Scott Decision reflected the turn of the slave power away from the principles of the Revolution. Simultaneously, the slave power held that their property in slavery was sacrosanct while repayment of their debts to Yankee and British creditors was a matter of states’ rights. A perceptive visitor to our country noted the difference in the manners of the people of the North and of the South. In the North, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, people were industrious, practical, prone to bargaining, and tolerant. Whereas in the South, they viewed leisure and luxury as signs of the elite, and were arrogant.

Slaveowners claimed that they treated their slaves better than Northern capitalists treated their workers, whom they called “wage slaves.” While there are continuing arguments about the productivity of slavery, the fact is that the North, starting with about the same population and wealth as the South, grew to three times the population and eight times the wealth of the South by the time of the Civil War. The language of “wage slaves” was common to both slaveowners and Marxists during the 19 th Century (and, for Marxists, continues today). This language reflects that both view capitalists as profiting from the exploitation of labor. Not that socialism or slavery don’t exploit labor. Under socialism, labor would be exploited so as to support the “forced savings” that would rapidly bring about super-abundant productivity and utopia. Under slavery – according to its practitioners – slaves were exploited, but less than free labor, so that slaves were better off than free labor. Except this was a lie, just as utopia under socialism is a lie.

The unfortunate status of African-American slaves as property was a corruption of the formerly accepted practice in war, to do whatever you might with the soldiers of a defeated enemy. You could execute them, hold them for ransom, enslave them, or free them. The slave trade involved the enslavement of persons captured during “wars” between tribes in Africa and then sold to Europeans. These wars were sometimes instigated for no reason other than capturing people to sell them into slavery. The horrors of the slave trade, in fomenting war in Africa, the voyage across the Atlantic, being worked to death in some places in the Americas, and being reduced – you and your children forever – to the status of property, eventually brought about an abolitionist movement to end slavery in the world.

It is not a coincidence that along with ending slavery during the 19th century, the nations of the world entered into a convention requiring the honorable treatment of soldiers of countries that adhered to the terms of that convention. No longer would prisoners of war and other persons detained during war be reduced to slavery. It is also not a coincidence that ending the profit from selling prisoners of war into slavery gave rise to efforts in the next century to end other reasons for initiating war and to try to outlaw war itself, although there remains work to be done to actually achieve that end.

Getting back to the Dred Scott Decision, as to whether states could make persons into citizens or decide issues involving slavery: Prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, states were obviously sovereign in such matters. So, by reason of state actions, many black people were in fact citizens at the time of the Founding. We can name many of them who voted, petitioned courts, served in the militia, owned guns, owned land, all of these things being acts of citizenship. This is not to say that all Northern states recognized the citizenship of free persons of color or that there wasn’t backsliding in the North.

The U.S. Constitution made no distinction between free men of color and whites, but rather distinguished between these two and (1) persons held to bondage and (2) Indians not subject to tax. The early census enumerated free citizens, listing them by head of household marked white, black, mulatto or Indian not on a reservation (i.e., subject to tax). The children of mixed-race families were generally classified as “free mulattos” if their mothers were white, and as either free or slave if their mothers were a free or enslaved African-American, intermarriage having been rather common during the Colonial period and during the early republic.

Initially, the slave states had liberal policies regarding emancipation. It was rather common for slaveowners to free their slaves in their wills (as George Washington did), and to free the children of their concubine marriages (as Thomas Jefferson did). Other slaves were freed by their owners for long and honorable service. The state of Virginia, among other states, freed slaves for military service during the Revolution. A person born into slavery, who gained his freedom, was called a freedman and, a person of color who was born a free man was called a free person of color.

With the U.S. Constitution, the states ceded to the new federal government certain powers, one of them being naturalization. But, there was no question as to whether states retained the power to free slaves, as many did and, there was no question that the federal government could regulate slavery in the territories, which it did (and as the Continental Congress had done previously).

There was also no question that the federal government could extend citizenship to persons of African descent, which it did, for example, in the Louisiana Purchase, bringing in as citizens the people of that multi-racial French community.

As the country entered what we now call the antebellum period, positions on slavery hardened. In the North, abolitionists arose seeking the immediate end of slavery. In the South, slaveowners defended slavery not as a necessary evil but as a good thing. The possibility that the country would resolve its Founding contradiction such as through gradual emancipation or compensated emancipation became increasingly remote. Furthermore, the connection of race and slavery was made tight. The rights of free men of color were taken away, including the right to vote and, the right to vote was extended to white men regardless of property ownership. Along with these changes, freedom of speech was restricted, effectively making it illegal to criticize slavery in some locales, and a whole new history of the country was fabricated.

The Dred Scott Decision reworked the history of the country to fit a narrative. It was factually wrong in stating that the country was founded on racism. The country was founded on the ideals of freedom and equality, and the continuation of slavery in half of the country was a contradiction of those ideals. Most of the Founders hoped for a peaceful resolution of that contradiction but, as we know, slavery was only ended by a civil war.

The slave power overplayed its hand with the Fugitive Slave Act, with Bloody Kansas, and with the Dred Scott Decision. A new party rose up during the 1850s, to confront it, where the Whigs had not. In 1856, that party’s first candidate for President – John C. Fremont – ran on the platform of “free soil, free speech, free men.” He didn’t win but the second Presidential nominee of that party – Abraham Lincoln – did. Lincoln saw slavery to be part of the perennial struggle of man against oppression. As he put it, it is the same thing, no matter whether it is one race subjugating another, or a king bestriding his own nation: One person works while another enjoys the fruits of his labor.


How did the Dred Scott Decision contribute to the Civil War? - History

In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that the Scotts remained slaves. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War. For more information on the history of the case, visit the History of Dred Scott page.

The records displayed in this exhibit document the Scotts' early struggle to gain their freedom through litigation and are the only extant records of this significant case as it was heard in the St. Louis Circuit Court. The original Dred Scott case file is located in the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.

This collection is an expanded and updated version of the original Dred Scott Case Collection. The collection, was expanded from eighty-five to one hundred and eleven documents, over 400 pages of text. In addition, the collection is now a full-text, searchable resource that represents the full case history of the Dred Scott Case. Please visit the About the Collection page for a complete project history.

The Dred Scott web site is part of a larger digital partnership between the Washington University Libraries and the Missouri State Archives, a division of Missouri's Secretary of State's office, in cooperation with the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.


How did the Dred Scott Decision contribute to the Civil War? - History

The critical issues dividing the nation--slavery versus free labor, popular sovereignty, and the legal and political status of black Americans --were brought into sharp focus in a series of dramatic debates during the 1858 election campaign for U.S. senator from Illinois. The campaign pitted a little-known lawyer from Springfield named Abraham Lincoln against Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1860.

The public knew little about the man the Republicans selected to run against Douglas. Lincoln had been born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky, and he grew up on the wild Kentucky and Indiana frontier. At the age of 21, he moved to Illinois, where he worked as a clerk in a country store, volunteered to fight Indians in the Black Hawk War, became a local postmaster and a lawyer, and served four terms in the lower house of the Illinois General Assembly.

A Whig in politics, Lincoln was elected in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives, but his stand against the Mexican War had made him too unpopular to win reelection. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Lincoln reentered politics, and in 1858 the Republican Party nominated him to run against Douglas for the Senate.

Lincoln accepted the Republican nomination with the famous words: "'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free." He did not believe the Union would fall, but he did predict that it would cease to be divided. Lincoln proceeded to argue that Stephen Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision were part of a conspiracy to make slavery lawful "in all the States, old as well as new--North as well as South."

For four months Lincoln and Douglas crisscrossed Illinois, traveling nearly 10,000 miles and participating in seven face-to-face debates before crowds of up to 15,000.

Douglas's strategy in the debates was to picture Lincoln as a fanatical "Black Republican" whose goal was to incite civil war, emancipate the slaves, and make blacks the social and political equals of whites.

Lincoln denied that he was a radical. He said that he supported the Fugitive Slave Law and opposed any interference with slavery in the states where it already existed.

During the course of the debates, Lincoln and Douglas presented two sharply contrasting views of the problem of slavery. Douglas argued that slavery was a dying institution that had reached its natural limits and could not thrive where climate and soil were inhospitable. He asserted that the problem of slavery could best be resolved if it were treated as essentially a local problem.

Lincoln, on the other hand, regarded slavery as a dynamic, expansionistic institution, hungry for new territory. He argued that if Northerners allowed slavery to spread unchecked, slaveowners would make slavery a national institution and would reduce all laborers, white as well as black, to a state of virtual slavery.

The sharpest difference between the two candidates involved the issue of black Americans' legal rights. Douglas was unable to conceive of blacks as anything but inferior to whites, and he was unalterably opposed to Negro citizenship. "I want citizenship for whites only," he declared. Lincoln said that he, too, was opposed to "bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races." But he insisted that black Americans were equal to Douglas and "every living man" in their right to life, liberty, and the fruits of their own labor.

The debates reached a climax on a damp, chilly August 27. At Freeport, Illinois, Lincoln asked Douglas to reconcile the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which denied Congress the power to exclude slavery from a territory, with popular sovereignty. Could the residents of a territory "in any lawful way" exclude slavery prior to statehood?

Douglas replied by stating that the residents of a territory could exclude slavery by refusing to pass laws protecting slaveholders' property rights. "Slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere," he declared, "unless it is supported by local police regulations."

Lincoln had maneuvered Douglas into a trap. Any way he answered, Douglas was certain to alienate Northern Free Soilers or proslavery Southerners. The Dred Scott decision had given slaveowners the right to take their slavery into any western territories. Now Douglas said that territorial settlers could exclude slavery, despite what the Court had ruled. Douglas won reelection, but his cautious statements antagonized Southerners and Northern Free Soilers alike.

In the fall election of 1858, the general public in Illinois did not have an opportunity to vote for either Lincoln or Douglas because the state legislature, and not individual voters, actually elected the Illinois senator. In the final balloting, the Republicans outpolled the Democrats. But the Democrats had gerrymandered the voting districts so skillfully that they kept control of the state legislature.

Although Lincoln failed to win a Senate seat, his battle with Stephen Douglas had catapulted him into the national spotlight and made him a serious presidential possibility in 1860. As Lincoln himself noted, his defeat was "a slip and not a fall."


How did the Lincoln Douglas debates cause the Civil War?

Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Lincoln, an obscure former state representative, argues that the nation would eventually encompass all slave states or all free states, and nothing in between. He cites the end of the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott decision as evidence that slavery is spreading into the Northern states.

Secondly, why was the Lincoln Douglas debates so important? Answer and Explanation: The Lincoln-Douglas debates were significant because of the issues discussed between the candidates during the debates. By the 1850s, slavery had

Also question is, what was the impact of the Lincoln Douglas debate?

Consequently, Lincoln and Douglas were not simply campaigning for themselves but also for their respective political parties. The main focus of these debates was slavery and its influence on American politics and society&mdashspecifically the slave power, popular sovereignty, race equality, emancipation, etc.

How did the North react to the Lincoln Douglas debates?

Southerners believed that Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist and also felt betrayed by Stephen Douglas's suggestion that territories could refuse to grant slavery legal protection.


The Dred Scott Case

The 1857 Supreme Court ruling on a number of issues relating to slavery.

Dred Scott might have remained as obscure to history as any among the hundreds of other people who, held in slavery during the hundred years before he took action, went into court to contest the lawfulness of their enslavement. But he did not. His was one of the few such cases to go into federal court, let alone the U.S. Supreme Court, and his action coincided with a political context in the 1850s in which national politics affected the outcome in state court and, moreover, appeared to turn on the outcome at the nation&rsquos high court. His freedom suit in local court became a Supreme Court case that addressed such big questions as whether black residents of the United States could be citizens and whether Congress could ban slavery in U.S. territories.

Dred Scott was born a slave, probably in Southampton County, Virginia, around the year 1800. His master, Peter Blow, took Scott to Alabama in 1818 and then to Missouri in 1830, where Blow died in 1832. By sometime in 1833, he had been purchased by Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon with the U.S. Army. The two soon moved to Fort Armstrong, in Illinois, where they spent two and a half years, and then to Fort Snelling, a remote spot in Wisconsin Territory, where they spent two more years. While at Fort Snelling, Dred Scott married Harriet Robinson, also born a slave in Virginia. Her owner, Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent at the fort, was also a justice of the peace and performed the marriage ceremony. Harriet took up residence at the fort with her new husband, but then Emerson moved to Louisiana and for some months rented out his two slaves back in Wisconsin Territory. In subsequent years, the Scotts lived and worked in Louisiana, Texas, and then Missouri. By 1846, the couple had two young daughters, and in April that year they sued for their freedom&mdashor, rather, he for his and she for hers and that of their two children.

The Scotts brought what looked like very winnable cases. People held in slavery had successfully brought suits for freedom in Massachusetts in the 1780s, where, on the basis of language in the new state&rsquos new constitution, judges ruled them free and thereby brought an end to slavery in that state in Maryland and Virginia during and after the American Revolution, where judges often ruled in their favor on the basis of their being descended in the female line from a woman who herself, either because she was white in Maryland or Indian in Virginia, should not have been held in slavery and in Mississippi, Louisiana, and elsewhere&mdashincluding Missouri&mdashon the basis of their having lived and worked for an extended time in a free state or territory. That last rationale governed the Scotts and made them hopeful of gaining their freedom. Slavery had been excluded in Illinois by the Northwest Ordinance and in Wisconsin Territory under the Missouri Compromise. Dred Scott would no doubt have come by his freedom had he sued while he was still in Illinois, Wisconsin Territory, or Louisiana, and Harriet too would likely have won at an earlier time. As for why they had not mounted such an effort much earlier, it can only be surmised that neither of them understood until 1846 that a freedom suit was an option they could and should pursue.

The couple met with various delays, however. At trial in June 1847, Dred Scott lost when he could not prove that the person he was suing, Irene Emerson (the doctor&rsquos widow), actually claimed to own him. Before a second trial could take place in December 1847, her attorneys contested the action, but in June 1848 the Missouri Supreme Court sided with the Scotts that they could go forward with their suits. The trial finally took place in January 1850, and the court found the Scotts free on the basis of their previous residence in a free state, Illinois, and a free territory, Wisconsin. Irene Emerson appealed this outcome to the Missouri Supreme Court, and this time, in March 1852, the state&rsquos highest court sided with her by a 2&ndash1 majority decision. Writing for the Missouri Supreme Court, and reversing more than a quarter-century of Missouri law, the chief justice mused about how &ldquothe times are not now as they were&rdquo and ruled against the Scotts. Meanwhile, the Scotts were in the custody of the local sheriff, who hired them out, collected the proceeds, and kept that money in escrow pending a determination as to whether it belonged to the Scotts, if they were free, or, if they were not, to their owner.

The couple next took their case into the federal court system, where they were suing John Sanford (whose name would be misspelled in the record as Sandford), the brother of Mrs. Emerson and executor of his estate. Or at least they tried to sue him. First, the federal district judge, Robert W. Wells, had to determine whether Scott had standing to bring the action, whether the federal court had jurisdiction to hear it. The issue had to do with what is called &ldquodiversity jurisdiction,&rdquo with one party to the dispute, in this case Scott, a citizen of one state, and the other party a citizen of another state&mdashJohn Sanford was a citizen of New York (and Irene was by this time a citizen of Massachusetts, having married a man from there). Sanford argued that Scott, regardless of whether he was free or a slave, was no citizen of Missouri and therefore had no standing, and the court no jurisdiction. The judge ruled Scott a citizen&mdashthat is, not a slave&mdashfor purposes of bringing his legal action to challenge his enslavement. But at trial in May 1854, Judge Wells ruled that Missouri law must govern the outcome, and the Missouri Supreme Court had provided an authoritative ruling on what the law of the State of Missouri was. The outcome in federal court therefore hinged on, and upheld, the state court ruling, even if that court had ruled in 1852 in a manner contrary to what would almost surely have been the outcome there just a few years earlier. The Scotts, all four of them, were still slaves.

The Scotts appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1854. During the eight years from their first going to court in 1846 to the time they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, consider what had been going on in American politics. In 1846, during the war with Mexico over Texas and the Southwest, Congress had considered, and the House of Representatives had actually passed, a bill that would ban the expansion of slavery into any new territories acquired from Mexico. In 1850, Congress had passed a stronger Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850. In 1854, the Kansas&ndashNebraska Act had undone the Missouri Compromise&rsquos delineation of a northern boundary in the West beyond which southern slavery could not expand. Time and again, slavery had emerged as a highly dangerous issue in national politics. Time and again, compromise had been reached, always with a tilt&mdashcertainly from a northern perspective&mdashtoward the interests of southern slaveholders.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Dred Scott case in February 1856 and then heard a re-argument on two central issues in December 1856. By then, the Scotts had been in one court or another for ten years. On March 6, 1857, the Court issued its ruling. Rather, all the justices wrote individual opinions, and over all they were divided 7&ndash2 what Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote more or less stood for the Court majority.

Was Dred Scott a citizen? No, insisted Taney. Did Congress have authority over the territories such that it could legislate a ban on the expansion of slavery? Again, no. Here the chief justice famously said about black residents of the American colonies and then the states at the time of the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution that, in accordance with the &ldquofixed and universal&rdquo opinion of white Americans, they were &ldquoregarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.&rdquo

For antislavery white northerners, the Dred Scott decision took the place of the Kansas-Nebraska Act as the symbol of proslavery power and the primary reason to run a Republican candidate, and hope to win, in the 1860 presidential election. When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas squared off in Illinois in 1858 as to who should be elected to the U.S. Senate, the Dred Scott ruling proved to be a key issue. In 1860, the Republican platform spoke of Dred Scott as putting forth a &ldquonew dogma&rdquo and a &ldquodangerous political heresy.&rdquo And a leading assessment of Dred Scott in the North was that Chef Justice Taney had overstepped his authority in ruling against Congress&rsquos authority to curtail the expansion of slavery&mdashit was obiter dictum, not necessary for resolving the matter before the Court&mdashfor if Scott was not a citizen, and could not bring his freedom suit into federal court, then his bid for freedom ended there, and the Court had no need to press on and address further questions regarding the law of slavery.

Proslavery spokesmen, for their part, expressed their delight and their relief. For generations, slavery had been a chronically dangerous issue in American public life, and now at last it was settled&mdashsettled, that is, on proslavery terms. In South Carolina, the Charleston Daily Courier celebrated the Court&rsquos twin rulings, that &ldquothe Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional&rdquo and that &ldquofree negroes have no rights as citizens.&rdquo In Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas had no quarrel with either the Supreme Court&rsquos resolution of the issue of slavery or the Court&rsquos opposition to black citizenship. &ldquoI am in favor,&rdquo he said, &ldquoof preserving not only the purity of the blood, but the purity of the government from any mixture or amalgamation with inferior races.&rdquo

Much of the Dred Scott decision&mdashthe core issues of slavery&rsquos expansion and black citizenship&mdashwas soon overturned. Victorious in the 1860 elections, the Republicans enacted a bill in June 1862 that declared a ban on slavery in any territories&mdashnot just a ban on the expansion of slavery into new territories&mdashin the West. Between the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, slavery was declared abolished everywhere in the nation. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 declared African Americans, or at least all those who had been born in the United States, to be citizens of their state and of the nation and the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, put that language in the U.S. Constitution. By 1868, indeed, black men were voting in all eleven former Confederate states, and the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, said no state could use race as the basis for denying any man the right to vote.

As for Chief Justice Taney&rsquos observations about white attitudes and state laws that denied black Americans anything approaching legal equality&mdashthe opinions and beliefs he had voiced and validated as a key basis for his ruling in the case&mdashthe Supreme Court&rsquos much later ruling, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), almost a century after Dred Scott, called for an end to racial discrimination under the law, certainly in elementary and secondary public schooling and soon in various other venues. But during that century, the attitudes and beliefs Taney had displayed lived on, as resistance to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments persisted, and both were often very narrowly construed, especially in the South.

What of Dred Scott, his wife Harriet, and their two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie? Dr. Emerson&rsquos widow had married a New Englander, Massachusetts Congressman Calvin Chaffee, whose antislavery credentials were compromised by his connection to his wife&rsquos slaves in St. Louis. He found a buyer in the sons of Peter Blow, Dred Scott&rsquos original owner, who bought the couple and their children and, in May 1857, freed them. For her part, however, the new Mrs. Chaffee demanded that the Scotts&rsquo income&mdashthat is, the net proceeds of their having been hired out&mdashover the preceding decade be turned over to her. So they became free not long after the Supreme Court denied their freedom suit, and Mr. Scott lived out his remaining life a free man, though he died in September 1858.

With their daughters finally free, no longer did Mr. or Mrs. Scott have to worry about their being sold into slavery in the Deep South. When slavery ended everywhere across the United States in 1865, no longer did Harriet Scott have to worry about her daughters&rsquo being kidnapped and sold back into slavery. In 1866 they all became citizens, and Harriet lived her last ten years a citizen. Her daughter Eliza married and had children, and eventually a great-granddaughter of Harriet and Dred Scott, Lynne Madison Jackson, founded the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. As for Lizzie, she lived long enough to gain the right to vote herself, and then on down to the end of World War II&mdashto nearly the eve of the Supreme Court&rsquos newly expansive reading of the Fourteenth Amendment&rsquos requirement regarding equality under the law in Brown v. Board of Education.

If you can read only one book:

Paul Finkelman, Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Saint Martin’s, 1997.


Although the amendment contains several provisions, four elements protect a person accused of a crime: the right against compelled self-incrimination, the right to a grand jury, the right of protection against double jeopardy and the right to due process.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you.


Watch the video: Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Civil War era 1844-1877. US history. Khan Academy


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