My research this week focused on looking at a critical moment in the political events leading up to the start of the Civil War: the Dred Scott decision. Continuing to work with the secondary sources The Impending Crisis and Fanatics and Fire-Eaters: Newspapers and the Coming of the Civil War, I used the information that these texts provided as a foundation through which to help me consider some of the primary sources that I posted from the New York Daily Times.
As I looked for articles through the New York Times Historical Database, I was particularly intrigued with the way in which the paper covered the political responses to the Supreme Court decision in other states (particularly other Northern states.) Two of the articles from the New York Daily Times that I posted this week report on political reactions in New Hampshire and Connecticut. In both examples, the nature of the responses (and who is making them) is particularly insightful in considering the ways in which the Court’s decision acted as a significant political factor in the events leading up to the war. This was not just a decision that touched off protest and dissent, but rather—as the Times articles point out—one that encouraged state governments to respond. In New Hampshire, it was the legislative body that responded by introducing resolves denouncing the decision. In Connecticut, it was the state’s governor that focused on the case in an address to his state’s legislature.
In both cases, the responses (as reported in the Times) highlight the suspicions and fears that seemed to exist in the North pertaining to whether the South was seeking to undermine the federal government—an idea that, to them, the Dred Scott decision seemed to support. In New Hampshire, as the Times reported, it was the legislature’s goal to denounce the decision “as an attempt to usurp the legislative functions of the Government.” And, in the large portions of the Connecticut governor’s speech that the Times printed, a similar sentiment is underscored through his remarks regarding how “Slavery becomes a national institution. Not only is the Federal Government made subservient to its interests, but all legal power is taken from the several States to resist…”
Going forward, it would seem as though another week’s research could certainly be directed to this case. What my posted research this week did not include were any reactions to the decision by Southern (or Northern Democrat) newspapers. While this owes in part to the general difficulties that exist in accessing such newspapers, the contrasting points that they choose to report compared to the position of the Times is certainly worth investigating. (The position that the Times takes on the case is perhaps best exemplified in how they choose to report Dred Scott’s death and the language they use to describe him.)
Furthermore, some research into the lasting impacts of this case is also warranted. Within this week’s research I included a political cartoon depicting the candidates of the Election of 1860 dancing to music provided by none other than Dred Scott. As this cartoon represents, the case continued to impact political thought several years later. Exploring some later articles and responses—as well as a greater consideration to the role of political cartoons—will be a direction to pursue in future research.