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

The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and PoliticsNot nearly as interesting as I thought it would be as the focus of the book is really on constitutional law, Taney s mis interpretation of it, and then other factors that led up to the Civil War But that s probably my fault as I found this on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners and apparently stopped reading the title after the first part The Dred Scott Case and missed the whole second part in American Law and Politics So I was expecting of a historical narrative than an exhaustive and technical analysis of a murky Supreme Court decision that has confused people for years.I guess what I am saying is there are two sets of people for whom this book will appeal 1 Constitutional law students and 2 People who like books with redbooks covers.Cutting through the dry parts, there was a pretty interesting narrative, namely that the Dred Scott decision was not based on a consistent reading of the constitution or logic , not all of the Supreme Court Justices agreed in fact to this day people are still debating who agreed to what and what was actually decided , Justice Taney was a bit of an asshat to use a technical term even though some scholars have wrongly regarded him in a high degree , and the Dred Scott decision did not actually play that large of a role in secession the author argues that the Lecompton affair was much of a tangible lightening rod, plus just overall inertia of a terrible policy needing to be reformed.Probably a very good book for constitutional law students to read but a bit dry and overly technical for the rest of us. Winner Of The Pulitzer Prize In , 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 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 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 This is an in depth legal history of the Supreme Court case involving Dred Scott Really fascinating and well read What stands out for me is that this case wasn t to determine whether or not Dred Scott was legally still a slave or not based on his specific case, but rather, the judges had to decide whether or not he had the right to sue someone or not Pretty crazy and a fascinating read. Before Fort Sumter, there was Dred Scott A great way to look through the surface and into the depths of national politics just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Astonishing account of the Supreme Court s most notorious case, Dred Scott v Sandford essentially stripping all blacks of their right to citizenship Bit of caution though you probably need to have some idea of jurisprudential analysis how lawyers and judges slice and dice their way through caselaw to fully appreciate the discussion And even then, it can be a bit of a slog Nonetheless, the effort will be richly rewarded.The final chapter In the Stream of History is worth special note There, Don Fehrenbacher said of Roger Taney, author of the Scott opinion, that his rehabilitation continued and was eminently successful In fact, there has probably never been a sharper contrast between the reputation of an author and the reputation of his most famous work p 589 Those words simply could not be written today, 40 years later Balti was so chagrined to be seen as Taney s hometown, that in 2017 it removed and placed in storage a sculpture that had publicly honored him for 130 years At the same time, a statue of Taney was removed from Maryland Statehouse grounds The pendulum has swung from rehabilitation to disgust Not that Fehrenbacher could have foreseen this change in momentum But he was astute in linking, first, the Dred Scott opinion to the emergence of substantive due process of law And near clairvoyant in linking it to the question of judicial sovereignty, a theory of power first put to significant use by that opinion pp 594 95 I suppose we might today substitute the phrase judicial activism, but judicial sovereignty is descriptive if drier And he is exactly right, the question roils our politics as well as courts to this day Consider that Dred Scott was the first Supreme Court decision to strike down a statute on the ground of substantive due process And then consider that this is something recently mentioned by dissenters while chiding the majority for finding a due process right to same sex marriage The need for restraint in administering the strong medicine of substantive due process is a lesson this Court has learned the hard way Obergefell v Hodges, An irony of jurisprudence, then, that a doctrine that sought to memorialize slavery was later utilized to liberate a once despised minority And consider too the irony that another aspect of the Dred Scott opinion that the Constitution the Bill of Rights specifically, if not called such then follows the flag Filipinos, that is, could claim entitlement to those rights when their country was a US territory Scott v Sandford may be a stain on our Court, but certain doctrines it enunciated continue to reverberate and for good not ill This is a book brimming with insights, relating to contemporary as well as historical meaning. The late Don Fehrenbacher was one of the most incisive and industrious historians of the US during the 19th century He exhibited that his great analytical and narrative skills were at their height in this entirely illuminating description of the Dred Scott decision, how the Supreme Court decided that case and how it effected politics during the 1850s I doubt that many readers will finish the book burdened with undue admiration of Roger B Tanney. A disgraceful moment in SCOTUS historyworthwhile read even if it sometimes bogs down in legal technicalities This book is endlessly fascinating because it treats the Dred Scott case, and, in a sense, the entire conflict leading to the Civil War, as a grand legal and constitutional debate, one that touched on issues of democracy, freedom, America, and, of course, race It brings the reader into that debate, and evaluates each sides arguments with a keen eye From a constitutional angle, both North and South had strong points, but by the Dred Scott decision in 1857, the South had become so obsessed with foreclosing any attack on slavery that they made increasingly outlandish arguments about the Constitution s inherent anti black and pro slavery defenses, which were embodied in Chief Justice Roger Taney s odious majority opinion for the Supreme Court.The Dred Scott case, and the debates leading to the Civil War, centered around Congress s power to prohibit or allow slavery in the newly acquired territories, or to allow territorial legislatures to do so The author notes that although Democrat Lewis Cass of Michigan came up with the idea of popular sovereignty of western territories over the slavery question in 1848, that policy had effectively been in place for the Southern territories since the first of these were organized in 1790 While the territories North of the Ohio had long had clauses in their enabling acts forbidding slavery, the Southern territories acts were silent, and thus the territorial governments there allowed slavery by default But after the Mexican American War, some in the South wanted congressional guarantees against territorial legislation on slavery, which they tried to attach to the New Mexico and Utah enabling acts They failed, but partially because some Southerns held to the belief that neither Congress or the territorial legislatures could say anything on slavery under the limited territorial clause of the Constitution The author points out that by the Compromise of 1850, the nation seemed increasingly incapable of agreeing to disagree Thus part of the compromise was merely a punt to the Courts the amendment originally sponsored by Senator John M Clayton of Delaware which allowed rapid hearings of cases dealing with constitutional issues in the new territories Chief Justice Roger Taney took this clear desire for judicial resolution and intended to ride it to a final conclusion of the slavery debate His decision, intermittently agreed to by up to 7 other justices, said first that a black man was not even a citizen who could sue under the diversity clause of a constitution thus limiting the possibility of fugitive slave freedom suits , but also that the territorial clause of the Constitution did not give Congress the ability to legislate on slavery, and also that any black man returned to a slave state had to abide by the laws of that state, and not whatever state or territory he previously resided It was a tissue of tenuous arguments and borderline lies, which basically told the new Republican party that tried to limit slavery s expansion to disband Counter to Taney s, and President James Buchanan s, hopes, it helped radicalize both sides and pushed the country closer to Civil War.I can t give this book full justice here, and its debates about residence vs mere sojourning in free states and their effects on slave status, or the civil disability of blacks in the North and the South, or the nature of interstate comity and its effect on states slavery rulings, but it will make the reader understand the intricate paths the country had to chart in reconciling its Constitution with slavery, and the new paths it had to chart to permanently divorce the two. The book on the Dred Scott Decision. A work of love for the writer He explained a case that had been a mystery to me in law school The ideas behind the case mirrored the divisions of America.

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  • Paperback
  • 768 pages
  • The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics
  • Don E. Fehrenbacher
  • English
  • 09 November 2018
  • 9780195145885

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