Research for March 6:

Primary Source – Harper’s Weekly Editorial on the Dred Scott Decision:

“Nor does it appear that the question of the citizenship of our free black population is a question likely to take any practical shape capable of profoundly agitating the public mind. We are indeed a consistent and reasonable people! We have among us a small representation of a tropical race of human beings, marked off from us by the unmistakable line of color, if by nothing else, and over whom we daily arrogate to ourselves of the Caucasian stock a complete and absolute superiority. We will not marry with them, we will not eat with them, as a general rule we do not let them vote, we will let them hold no office.  We do not allow them to kneel beside us to worship the Great Father of all; not even when we approach the end of our weary journey will we allow our miserable dust to repose side by side with theirs in the common receptacle of humanity. And yet, when half a dozen old lawyers at Washington, after racking their heads for two years over a question that has bothered the Robe for half a century, announce as their decision that free blacks are not citizens of the United States, and as such not permitted to sue in certain courts of limited and special jurisdiction, we fume, and fret, and bubble, and squeak, as if some dreadful injustice and oppression were committed.  It really does not seem to us that this part of the Dred Scott decision is likely to produce any very serious practical results.”

“In the second place, the Supreme Court have decided that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that Congress has no power to prohibit slavery in the Territories. If this question had been so decided three years ago, it might have been considered formidable, but of what practical effect is it now? The party in power — certain to be in power in two branches of the Government at least for the next four years — have announced it as their fixed and unalterable determination to leave the question of slavery to the Territories themselves. When then, or how is the case to arise, which shall give to this branch of the decision any practical force?”

“The only result, therefore, that we can arrive at is, that however repugnant the Dred Scott decision may be to the feelings of a portion of the Northern States, it can have no practical effects injurious to our tranquillity, or to our institutions. The subject of slavery will be left to be decided, as it ultimately must be, by the laws which govern labor and production.”

Editorial Published in Harper’s Weekly, March 28, 1857


Primary Source – Newspaper Article on a Southern Legal Perspective on the Case:


“Letter from the Hon WM. C. Smedes, of Vicksburg, Miss.”

“On the contrary, so far as the decision says anything on the subject of the power of Congress, its clear implication is a denial to that body of any power to legislate at all, either pro or con., in relation to Slavery in the Territories. I am aware that this declaration will take you and many others of your party, and, indeed, of all parties in the South, and I may say in the United States, both North and South, by surprise; and you will be prepared to expect what you are pleased to term ‘some ingenious and specious’ construction of that opinion, which is to set at naught the popular understanding of it, and prove so many politicians and solemn conventional resolves to be in a total eclipse on the subject. But I repeat what I say, there is not a syllable in that opinion, or in any opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States known to me, which in the remotest degree suggests either the power or the duty in Congress to protect Slavery in the Territories. There is no such fatal power given to Congress of the United States, to intervene or interfere either to prohibit or protect Slavery in the Territories, but there is, the rather, a positive denial of such power. That great man, Chief Justice Taney, when he enunciated his opinion in the Dred Scott case, and especially when he penned the paragraph out of which this great and dangerous misconception has grown, a misconception that has nearly destroyed, and, if persevered in, will destroy the otherwise noble fruits of that masterly decision, had no thought, it is impossible that he could have had any thought, that any such perversion of his ideas or of his language could have been made.”

“The main question was, Is Dred Scott a slave?—and incident to that question, and necessary to its decision, what was the effect of the act of Congress prohibiting the introduction of Slavery into territory of the United States, upon the individual condition, as to freedom or slavery, of a slave who had been carried into such prohibited ground. In other words, the constitutionality of a prohibitory act of Congress against the rights of a slaveholder to go with his property into Territories of the United States, was the point before the Court; and had the Court gone further and enunciated the doctrine that while Congress had no power to prohibit the ingress of Slavery into the Territories, it had the power and it was its duty to protect it therein, and had sustained this doctrine by reason and authority, its whole opinion on that point would have been a volunteer, an obiter dictum—a mere passing expression of opinion on a point not on the record, and not before the Court, and therefore not authoritative. But Chief Justice Taney is too good a lawyer and too able a Judge to break one of the first and simplest rules of judicial decision and authority. He never advanced such a doctrine, and of course never elucidated or maintained it by argument or authority.”

Article Published in New York Times, October 3, 1859