Slavery, Law, and Politics: The Dred Scott Case in Historical Perspective

By Don E. Fehrenbacher | Go to book overview

6
Before the Supreme Court

For more than a year after it was docketed, the Dred Scott case awaited the attention of the Supreme Court. During that time the revolutionary effects of the Kansas-Nebraska Act became increasingly evident. Kansas itself appeared to be on the verge of civil war. Open hostilities between proslavery and free-state forces in the territory were narrowly averted in December 1855, just as the Court was beginning its new term. Meanwhile, the anti-Nebraska movement, already triumphant in many northern states, was approaching the final phase of transformation into a permanent political party. At a meeting scheduled for February 22 in Pittsburgh, Republican leaders planned to lay the foundation of a national organization. Kansas would obviously be the principal issue in the coming presidential election. The new thirty-fourth Congress, bogged down for two months in a struggle over the speakership of the House, would likewise soon find itself preoccupied with the Kansas problem. The newspapers of the nation were already rehearsing every argument on the subject. And the Kansas controversy inevitably produced another round of angry debate on the constitutional power of Congress over slavery in the territories. Thus the historical context of the Dred Scott decision was being prepared.

Yet the public was still unaware of the case. It received no advance publicity in the press. Even the Washington correspon

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