About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

34 N. Ky. L. Rev. 643 (2007)
Dred Scott: The Decision That Sparked a Civil War

handle is hein.journals/nkenlr34 and id is 699 raw text is: DRED SCOTT: THE DECISION THAT SPARKED A CIVIL WAR
Dr. Roberta Alexander*
I. INTRODUCTION
According to legend, President Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting
Harriet Beecher Stowe, said: So you're the little woman who wrote the
book that started this great war!' Lincoln could have said much the same
thing to Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. As the author of
2
the most controversial decision rendered in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Taney
started a firestorm that contributed to Lincoln's victory in 1860 and the
South's subsequent secession from the Union. Contemporaries recognized
the significance of Taney's decision. The New York Times, in October of
1864, reflecting on the causes of the Civil War, concluded that the Dred
Scott decision contributed more than all other things combined to the
election of President Lincoln.3 Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter,
writing almost one hundred years later argued that not only did Dred Scott
probably help to promote the Civil War, it also required the Civil
War to bury its dicta.4
Numerous historians have reached similar conclusions.5 Leo Pfeffer
succinctly summed up this thesis when he concluded: If war was not
inevitable, the [Dred Scott] decision made it so. 6 Charles Warren even
more boldly asserted that Taney elected Abraham         Lincoln to the
Presidency.'7 Paul Finkelman, a little more conservatively, concluded that
although it would be an exaggeration to say that the Dred Scott decision
caused the Civil War[,] ... it certainly pushed the nation far closer to that
war by playing a decisive role in the emergence of Abraham Lincoln as
* Former Professor of History and Prelaw Program Director, University of Dayton, Ohio
1. JOAN D. HEDRICK, HARRIET BEECHER STOWE: A LIFE vii (Oxford University Press 1994).
2. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856).
3. DON E. FEHRENBACHER, THE DRED SCOTT CASE: ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN LAW & POLITICS, 712
n. 24 (Oxford University Press 1978).
4. Quoted in BERNARD SCHWARTZ, A HISTORY OF THE SUPREME COURT 116 (1993).
5. Many other historians have also concluded that the Dred Scott decision was a major, if not
the major cause of southern secession. See e.g., ROBERT K. CARR, THE SUPREME COURT AND
JUDICIAL REVIEW 208 (1942); see generally,BRuCE CATTON, THE AMERICAN HERITAGE PICTURE
HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR 40 (Richard M. Ketchum ed., American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.
1960); HARRY V. JAFFA, A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM: ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE COMING OF THE
CIVIL WAR 324 (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000); KENT NEWMYER, THE SUPREME
COURT UNDER MARSHALL AND TANEY 139 (AHM Publising Corp., 1968); BERNARD SCHWARTZ,
supra note 4 at 125.
6. LEO PFEFFER, THIS HONORABLE COURT 158 (Octagon Books 1965).
7. CHARLES WARREN, 2 THE SUPREME COURT IN U.S. HISTORY 357 (Little, Brown, &
Company 1926) (1922).

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing nearly 3,000 academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.



Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline with pricing starting as low as $29.95

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most