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

By Don E. Fehrenbacher | Go to book overview

8
Concurrence, Dissent, and Public Reaction

Except, perhaps, for the dissent of Justice Curtis, which won wide acceptance in Republican circles as the official rejoinder to Taney, none of the other opinions delivered in the Dred Scott case had a significant effect on the course of events. Yet each in its own way reveals something about the nature of the sectional conflict, and, taken together, they exemplify the subtle variations possible in American constitutional thought.

The order in which the opinions were published in Howard's Reports did not follow the order of their oral delivery on March 6 and 7, but rather was carefully specified by Taney. First, after his own, he placed Wayne's brief and unqualified concurrence. Then came the Nelson opinion, presumably because it supplemented Taney's with a more extensive treatment of the issue presented by Scott's residence in Illinois. Written as the opinion of the Court and then demoted, it concurred with Taney's opinion on only one major point. Yet the Chief Justice was obviously pleased with what amounted to an emphatic reaffirmation of his Strader decision.

The Nelson opinion, holding simply that Dred Scott's status depended entirely on the law of Missouri as interpreted by its highest court, has been treated gently by most historians and seems at first glance to reflect a degree of dispassion in the midst of sectional bitterness. Upon closer scrutiny such an impression

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