The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics

by Don Edward Fehrenbacher

Hardcover, 1978





New York : Oxford University Press, 1978.


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, The Dred Scott Case is a masterful examination of the most famous example of judicial failure--the case referred to as "the most frequently overturned decision in history." On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Supreme Court's decision against Dred Scott, a slave who maintained he had been emancipated as a result of having lived with his master in the free state of Illinois and in federal territory where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise. The decision did much more than resolve the fate of an elderly black man and his family: Dred Scott v. Sanford was the first instance in which the Supreme Court invalidated a major piece of federal legislation. The decision declared that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the federal territories, thereby striking a severe blow at the legitimacy of the emerging Republican party and intensifying the sectional conflict over slavery. This book represents a skillful review of the issues before America on the eve of the Civil War. The first third of the book deals directly with the with the case itself and the Court's decision, while the remainder puts the legal and judicial question of slavery into the broadest possible American context. Fehrenbacher discusses the legal bases of slavery, the debate over the Constitution, and the dispute over slavery and continental expansion. He also considers the immediate and long-range consequences of the decision.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dh1515
This book is in the first rank of scholarship and scholarly writing. Each sentence raises an interest expanded by the next sentence.
LibraryThing member Osorio
This book is the most thorough study of a single court case that you can find anywhere. To really understand the Dred Scott case, you have to understand the history, the politics, the law, and the people involved. Fehrenbacher nails all four. Nowhere will you find a more lively discussion of the ins and outs of obiter dictum and federal jurisdiction nor a more revealing analysis of the people central to the drama: Roger Taney, Stephen Douglas, etc. A must read for all students of American history, law, and politics.… (more)


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