Lea VanderVelde is Josephine Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontierby Lea VanderVelde
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Among the most infamous U.S. Supreme Court decisions is Dred Scott v. Sandford . Despite the case's signal importance as a turning point in America's history, the lives of the slave litigants have receded to the margins of the record, as conventional accounts have focused on the case's judges and lawyers. In telling the life of Harriet, Dred's wife and co-litigant in the case, this book provides a compensatory history to the generations of work that missed key sources only recently brought to light. Moreover, it gives insight into the reasons and ways that slaves used the courts to establish their freedom. A remarkable piece of historical detective work, Mrs. Dred Scott chronicles Harriet's life from her adolescence on the 1830s Minnesota-Wisconsin frontier, to slavery-era St. Louis, through the eleven years of legal wrangling that ended with the high court's notorious decision. The book not only recovers her story, but also reveals that Harriet may well have been the lynchpin in this pivotal episode in American legal history. Reconstructing Harriet Scott's life through innovative readings of journals, military records, court dockets, and even frontier store ledgers, VanderVelde offers a stunningly detailed account that is at once a rich portrait of slave life, an engrossing legal drama, and a provocative reassessment of a central event in U.S. constitutional history. More than a biography, the book is a deep social history that freshly illuminates some of the major issues confronting antebellum America, including the status of women, slaves, Free Blacks, and Native Americans.
- Oxford University Press
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Erase what you think you know about slavery, the Western frontier, the politics and the people who lived our history during the forty years prior to the Civil War, and do yourself a favor. Read this book. Ten years in the making, author Lea VanderVelde may well have written what is beyond any doubt the most important and thorough work on the personal lives of Harriet and Dred Scott (or, for that matter, most any personage who did not leave a personal written record) that exists today. Ms. VanderVelde goes where few authors of historic works dare to go - she lifts her subjects from the text and revives them into the context of the events going on around them, balancing her meticulous research with insight and logic to draw some of the most realistic, moving, uncomfortable, and absorbing portraits of Harriet, Dred, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, John Emerson and others that I have ever had the pleasure to read. Her writing style is fluid, involving, and conveys her passion and commitment to telling Dred and Harriet's story the way it should be told. I had to put it down every few pages and step away to digest the implications of what I was reading. A surprising work.
Educational and entertaining. A favorite book for all time. Liked it as well as Team of Rivals