A CASE FOR JUDICIAL RESTRAINT
THe Year was 1856; the setting was the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. The mood of the country was edgy. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had become law and the reactions to it were increasingly hostile. Kansas itself was in near open revolt. Out of this turmoil, a new political force, the Republican Party, was forming. Its members generally placed the national interest above states' rights and opposed slavery. President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, was in the White House. Although Pierce wanted to run again for the presidency, he need not have worried about the Republicans. His views on slavery (he thought of abolitionists as fanatics) and the mess in Kansas would do him in. The Democrats nominated and won with James Buchanan instead. The newly formed Republicans would not be a force until 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Congress was bogged down in trying to elect a Speaker of the House and in angiy debate over what should be done about Kansas. Newspapers carried every argument back and forth, but they still were not printing much about Dred Scott, and so the public remained largely unaware of the case.