Lecompton and Freeport
The tangible significance of the Dred Scott decision was far from clear in the spring and summer of 1857. It had no immediate legal effect of any importance except on the status of free Negroes. Unlike the Fugitive Slave and Kansas-Nebraska acts, it provoked no violent aftermath, presented no problem of enforcement, inspired no political upheaval. Whether the Court's action had shifted the sectional balance of power remained to be seen. After the great Republican triumph in 1860 and the ensuing disruption of the Union, it was only natural to look back on the decision as one of the critical factors in a political revolution. No one could have been more emphatic about it than Charles Warren, historian of the Supreme Court. "It may fairly be said," he wrote, "that Chief Justice Taney elected Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency." What Warren had in mind primarily was the effect of Taney's decision on the unity of the Democratic party.
At this point, we must begin to come to grips with one of the more familiar stories in American political history--how the Dred Scott decision and Lincoln's shrewd exploitation of it in the Freeport debate compelled Douglas to take a stand that alienated the South, disrupted the Democratic party, and thus cleared the way for a Republican victory in 1860. The supporting evidence seems to carry conviction. Taney's opinion, as we have seen, did declare that since Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the terri-