The 1850s: The Dred Scott v. Sanford1. Abraham Lincoln criticized the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, accusing the Court of attempting to "nationalize slavery."...

The 1850s: The Dred Scott v. Sanford

1. Abraham Lincoln criticized the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, accusing the Court of attempting to "nationalize slavery." Assess the validity of Lincoln's criticism.

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dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Supreme court case Dred Scott v. Sanford 1857 was at the time regarded as the politics of tension.  The case dealt with the following scenario: Dred Scott was a slave from Missouri whose owner took him to Illinois where he lived as a free man. When he returned to Missouri he sued for his freedom. The argument was that he lived in a free territory as a free man therefore he should be free. The Supreme Court ruled against him stating that free African Americans were not U.S.citizens therefore could not bring suit in a court of law. Essentially, regardless of the geographical location of a slave, they were property. Furthermore the 5th Amendment forbids the Congress of depriving life, liberty, property without due process therefore not only was Dred Scott property the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was deemed unconstitutional because it denied slave owners of their property rights.

This decision, settled the definition of a slave as property and not a human being, it nullified the Missouri Compromise which opened all territories to the possibility of slavery therefore it could be argued that Lincoln's perspective was essentially a valid one.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Number One's supposition is only partially correct. The Dred Scot decision, as correctly pointed out by lrwilliams, declared the Missouri Compromise as unconstitutional (even though Congress had previously invalidated it) as violative of the Fifth Amendment. Taney's argument was that slaves were property and property of any type could not be taken from one without due process. As a result, slavery was then legal in all the states and territories under the Constitution. The concept of Popular Sovereignty was now a dead letter. Hence, Lincoln's comment that the decision "nationalized" slavery was correct.

It is true that Taney was a slave holder; and it is likely that his decision was influenced somewhat by that fact; even so, his decision was sound at the time. Even Lincoln believed that slavery was constitutionally protected. This was the primary reason for the heated debate about equal representation of free and slave states in the Senate. A majority in the Senate might be able to propose a constitutional amendment ending slavery--which was the vehicle by which it was eventually ended.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I disagree with the above post.  The entire case was about Dred Scott, a slave that was held by his owner in a free state for years.  The premise of the court challenge was that it was illegal to own a slave on free territory.  By siding with the slave owner, Taney established a legal precedent for ownership of slaves in free states.  It didn't make the sale or purchase of slaves in those states legal, but it defined slaves as "chattel", or property, and this did have an effect on the legality of slavery in free states and territories.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To some extent it was valid.  Taney was pro-slavery and probably would have been okay with the idea of nationalizing slavery.

However, it's not really true to say the Court was trying to nationalize slavery.  The decision did not do anything to force slavery on states that did not want it.

So the decision might have allowed slavery to spread farther, and Taney would have liked that.  But the decision did not in any way make slavery legal in states where it did not already exist.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
It is the court's job to interpret the law. The judges are supposed to be above politics. You could argue that the judges were playing politics, and trying to keep the South happy to avoid a civil war. The constitution did not ex locket forbid slavery for a reason.
lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with the above post, by ruling the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional it opened up new territories where slavery would be permitted. As stated above, it also set precedence that slaves were property and therefore had no rights.

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