Dred Scott v. Sandford

(1857)

Impact

Few cases have had such a huge impact on American politics. Most southerners cheered the decision. So did President Buchanan, who hoped the decision would bring peace to Kansas and destroy the Republican Party, since its main platform was prohibiting slavery in the territories. It also undercut Buchanan's rival in the Democratic Party, Senator Stephen A. Douglas. He had been the leading proponent of popular sovereignty in the territories, which would have allowed the settlers in the territories to decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery. This had been the basis of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Douglas sponsored. Under Dred Scott, however, popular sovereignty was unconstitutional because the territorial governments were prohibited from banning slavery. Douglas would give tacit support for the decision, but it undermined his political strength in the North.

Republicans around the nation attacked the decision. Horace Greeley, the Republican editor of the New...

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An 1887 engraving of Dred Scott (Library of Congress)

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