Foreshadows of the Law: Supreme Court Dissents and Constitutional Development

By Donald E. Lively | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2
IMAGES OF A NEW UNION

The Dred Scott decision by itself did not cause the union's dissolution and consequent civil war. Nor is it even certain how much of the Republican Party's expanding popularity during the late 1850s was attributable to the Dred Scott ruling. The Republicans' explosive growth in the several years before the nation's unraveling reflected the consolidation or transfer of political allegiance pursuant to disintegration of or alienation from other parties. Although impossible to prove Charles Warren's thesis that the Dred Scott decision "elected Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency," it is clear that Lincoln's victory prompted secession. As Don Fehrenbacher has suggested, the ruling at least "was a conspicuous and perhaps an integral part of configuration of events and conditions that did produce enough changes of allegiance to make a political revolution and enough intensity of feeling to make that revolution violent."


Limits of Judicial Power

The notion that the Supreme Court somehow could have successfully resolved the slavery controversy was grounded more in political desperation than realism. Although never having reckoned with slavery in its broadest sense, the Court had established enough of a record to suggest that it was an unlikely source for resolving or ameliorating the nation's condition. The case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, for instance, concerned a discrete, albeit significant aspect of the slavery issue. The decision was criticized in the North, where the ruling enhanced sensitivity with respect to the entire nation's involvement in slavery. Even though vindicating the

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