The Dred Scott Case

The Dred Scott Case : Its Significance in American Law and Politics

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, The Dred Scott Case is a masterful examination of the most famous example of judicial failure--the case referred to as "the most frequently overturned decision in history." On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Supreme Court's decision against Dred Scott, a slave who maintained he had been emancipated as a result of having lived with his master in the free state of Illinois and in federal territory where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise. The decision did much more than resolve the fate of an elderly black man and his family:Dred Scott v. Sanford was the first instance in which the Supreme Court invalidated a major piece of federal legislation. The decision declared that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the federal territories, thereby striking a severe blow at the legitimacy of the emerging Republican party and intensifying the sectional conflict over slavery. This book represents a skillful review of the issues before America on the eve of the Civil War. The first third of the book deals directly with the with the case itself and the Court's decision, while the remainder puts the legal and judicial question of slavery into the broadest possible American context. Fehrenbacher discusses the legal bases of slavery, the debate over the Constitution, and the dispute over slavery and continental expansion. He also considers the immediate and long-range consequences of the decision.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 756 pages
  • 157.48 x 231.14 x 38.1mm | 1,133.98g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195024036
  • 9780195024036

Review Text

Fehrenbacher, a Lincoln biographer and professor of history at Stanford, has written a masterfully researched legal-historical account of the Dred Scott decision - a work long overdue considering the implications of the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the Missouri Compromise's restrictions on slavery and maintained that Negroes were not citizens. Still, some will find the book overlong. Ostensibly writing on Dred Scott, the author devotes one-fourth of the work to an overview, from 1619 to 1857, of slavery, slave law, and territorial expansion. Here, Fehrenbacher's stimulating insights on such matters as the Wilmot Proviso are partial compensation. When he finally comes to Court, few details are left out. In substance, Fehrenbacher convincingly contends that Chief Justice Taney's majority opinion, negating major federal legislation and seeking to resolve a major political crisis, anticipates the judiciary's law-making or crisis-resolution function during the era of the Warren Court. Chief Justice Marshall, the author notes, had upheld judicial review, but had never ruled major federal laws unconstitutional. The rest of Fehrenbacher's findings are less broad. Unlike many historians, he persuasively minimizes the decision's effect on the political parties or Lincoln's election, and as a cause of the Civil War. Although Taney's reputation has been rehabilitated in this century, Fehrenbacher portrays him as a bitter polemicist who died in 1864 still sympathetic to slavery and Southern secession. Hated at the time of his death, Taney nevertheless failed to destroy the Court's reputation. We have then, finally, the definitive account, often exhausting, yet generally worth the struggle. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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106 ratings
4.27 out of 5 stars
5 48% (51)
4 36% (38)
3 12% (13)
2 3% (3)
1 1% (1)
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