Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837-1857 / Edition 1

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The Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision denied citizenship to African Americans and enabled slavery's westward expansion. It has long stood as a grievous instance of justice perverted by sectional politics. Austin Allen finds that the outcome of Dred Scott hinged not on a single issue—slavery—but on a web of assumptions, agendas, and commitments held collectively and individually by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and his colleagues.

Allen carefully tracks arguments made by Taney Court justices in more than 1,600 reported cases in the two decades prior to Dred Scott and in its immediate aftermath. By showing us the political, professional, ideological, and institutional contexts in which the Taney Court worked, Allen reveals that Dred Scott was not simply a victory for the Court's prosouthern faction. It was instead an outgrowth of Jacksonian jurisprudence, an intellectual system that charged the Court with protecting slavery, preserving both federal power and state sovereignty, promoting economic development, and securing the legal foundations of an emerging corporate order—all at the same time. Here is a wealth of new insight into the internal dynamics of the Taney Court and the origins of its most infamous decision.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this original and provocative look at one of the most important judicial decisions in American history, Austin Allen skillfully re-creates the mid-nineteenth century Supreme Court's intellectual world. For the first time, Allen dissects the internal workings of Roger Taney's Court, showing how the justices constructed a logic parallel but separate from the political controversies that raged outside their Court. This book is indispensable for understanding the intricate connections between Jacksonian democracy, the Supreme Court, and the coming of the Civil War."—Christopher Waldrep, author of The Many Faces of Judge Lynch

"Austin Allen has written an absolutely superb, and original, book that is full of extraordinarily clearly presented insights about the various legal contexts within which the Dred Scott litigation occurred and was decided by the Supreme Court. Anyone interested in the development of American constitutional law and the role of the Supreme Court must read this book."—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law

"Austin Allen has found a new and intriguing angle on the infamous Dred Scott case. . . . He explains relatively technical and obscure elements of early nineteenth-century law in an accessible and clear fashion. . . . This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Dred Scott case, and is quite valuable for anyone interested in the Supreme Court, law, and politics during the Jacksonian era."—Civil War History

"This brilliant volume is filled with insight across antebellum legal thought. . . . Everyone working in antebellum legal history needs to engage this book. We will all be grappling . . . with Allen's thoughtful, bold book for the rest of our careers. He has opened Dred Scott again to study and shown us that we have much to learn about the complex relationship of judicial doctrine and proslavery ideology."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Here is a wealth of new insight into the internal dynamics of the Taney Court and the origins of its most infamous decision"—McCormick Messenger

"Allen's well-written book is a fine introduction to Jacksonian jurisprudence and the politics of the Taney court . . . original and informative."—Journal of American History

"Allen has written a fine book: instructive, perceptive, and well researched . . . [Origins of the Dred Scott Case] will not be the last word on the subject, but, from this point forward, it must be part of any intelligent discussion."—American Historical Review

"Makes important contributions this scholarship on sectional controversies in antebellum America."—Law and History Review

Law and History Review
... makes important contributions this scholarship on sectional controversies in antebellum America.
—Mark A. Graber
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Austin Allen is an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston, Downtown.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : beyond the sectional crisis 1
Pt. I Beneath Dred Scott : Jacksonian jurisprudence and the dimensions of self-rule 9
1 Realizing popular sovereignty : partisan sentiment and constitutional constraint in Jacksonian jurisprudence 13
2 Imposing self-rule : professionalism, commerce, social order, and the sources of Taney court jurisprudence 36
3 Evidence of law : popular sovereignty and judicial authority in Swift V. Tyson 52
Pt. II Toward Dred Scott : slavery, corporations, and popular sovereignty in the Web of law 69
4 Moderating Taney : concurrent sovereignty and answering the slavery question, 1842-1852 75
5 The limits of judicial partisanship : corporate law and the emergence of southern factionalism 98
6 The sources of southern factionalism : corporations, free blacks, and the imperatives of federal citizenship 116
Pt. III Inescapable opportunity : the Supreme Court and the Dred Scott case 133
7 The failure of evasion : Dred Scott v. Emerson, Strader v. Graham, Swift v. Tyson, and Dred Scott v. Sandford 139
8 The political economy of blackness : citizenship, corporations, and the judicial uses of racism in Dred Scott 160
9 Looking westward : concurrent sovereignty and the answer to the territorial question 178
Epilogue : United Court, divided union : judicial harmony and the fate of concurrent popular sovereignty 203
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