A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Melvin I. Urofsky; Paul Finkelman | Go to book overview
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18

A House Dividing

The Gag Rule The Amistad Case The Lone Star
Republic Annexing Texas Constitutional Questions over
Annexation Presidential War Powers The Wilmot
Proviso Free Labor and Free Soil Calhoun's Southern Ide-
ology The Compromise of 1850 The Slave Trade in the
Nation's Capital, California Statehood, and Slavery in the
Territories The Fugitive Slave Law The Kansas–
Nebraska Act Obstructing the Fugitive Slave Act “Bleed-
ing Kansas” The Republican Party Dred Scott's Case
The Self-Inflicted Wound The Dred Scott Decision The
Aftermath Kansas, Once Again Ableman v. Booth
Conclusion For Further Reading

DURING THE 1820S and early 1830s, slavery grew from a nagging but secondary issue to a major concern in American politics, and by extension, in American law as well. In the next two and a half decades, the peculiar institution would become the central question of American life and gradually cripple the political process. Just as the country could not deal politically with the moral questions raised by slavery, the nation's courts were unable to resolve constitutional problems in a manner acceptable to both the North and South. Chief Justice Taney's major effort to impose a judicial solution on a political and moral controversy—his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)—proved disastrous and helped set the stage for the Civil War.


The Gag Rule

Starting in the 1790s, opponents of slavery took advantage of the First Amendment right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” These reformers asked Congress to hem in the slave trade and to protect free blacks. Their pleas generally fell on deaf ears, and the only significant slavery-related act of the first few congresses

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