Slavery and the Supreme Court, 1825-1861

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Overview

During America's turbulent antebellum era, the Supreme Court decided important cases—most famously Dred Scott—that spoke to sectional concerns and shaped the nation's response to the slavery question. Much scholarship has been devoted to individual cases and to the Taney Court, but this is the first comprehensive examination of the major slavery cases that came before the Court between 1825 and 1861.

Earl Maltz presents a detailed analysis of all eight cases and explains how each fit into the slavery politics of its time, beginning with The Antelope, heard by the John Marshall Court, and continuing with the seven other cases taken before the Roger Taney Court: The Amistad, Groves v. Slaughter, Prigg v. Pennsylvania, Strader v. Graham, Dred Scott v. Sandford, Ableman v. Booth, and Kentucky v. Denison.

Case by case, Maltz identifies the political and legal forces that shaped each of the judicial outcomes while clarifying the evolution of the Court's slavery-related jurisprudence. He reveals the beliefs of each justice about the morality of slavery and the judicial role in constitutional cases to show how their actions were determined by a complex interaction of political and doctrinal considerations. Thus he offers a more nuanced understanding of the antebellum federal judiciary, showing how the decision in Prigg hinged on views about federalism as well as attitudes toward human freedom, while the question of which slaves were freed in The Antelope depended more on complex fact-finding than on a condemnation of the slave trade. Maltz also challenges the view that the Taney Court simply mirrored Southern interests and argues that, despite DredScott, the overall record of the Court was not particularly proslavery.

Although the progression of the Court's decisions reflects a change in the tenor of the conflict over slavery, the aftermath of those decisions illustrates the limits of the Court's ability to change the dynamic that governed political struggles over such divisive issues. As the first accessible account of all of these cases, Slavery and the Supreme Court, 1825-1861 underscores the Court's limited capability to resolve the intractable political conflicts that sharply divided our nation during this period.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616664
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 10/19/2009
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 1,283,787
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Earl M. Maltz is Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University-Camden and author or editor of six other books, including Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery and Civil Rights, the Constitution, and Congress, 1863-1869.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: The Banality of Constitutional Evil Mark A. Graber Graber, Mark A.

Pt. I The Jurisprudence of the Marshall Court

Ch. 1 Prelude to Conflict: The Marshall Court and The Antelope 3

Ch. 2 The Marshall Court and Federalism 12

Pt. II The Age of Accommodation

Ch. 3 Sectionalism and the Rise of the Second-Party System 23

Ch. 4 The Supreme Court in the Early 1840s 32

Ch. 5 United States v. The Amistad 52

Ch. 6 Slavery, the Commerce Power, and Groves v. Slaughter 68

Ch. 7 The Problem of Fugitive Slaves 83

Ch. 8 Assessment 114

Pt. III The Conflict Escalates, 1843-1853

Ch. 9 Slavery and Territorial Expansion 119

Ch. 10 The Controversy over Fugitive Slaves, 1843-1853 136

Ch. 11 The Supreme Court in 1846 143

Ch. 12 Revisiting the Commerce Power 149

Ch. 13 The Ongoing Struggle over Fugitive Slaves 155

Ch. 14 Prelude to Dred Scott: Strader v. Graham and the Doctrine of Reattachment 165

Ch. 15 Assessment 173

Pt. IV The Sectionalization of American Politics, 1853-1859

Ch. 16 The Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Anthony Burns Affair, and the Demise of the Second-Party System 177

Ch. 17 The Supreme Court in the Mid-1850s 184

Ch. 18 Ableman v. Booth, Part 1: Northern Nullification 196

Ch. 19 Dred Scott, Part 1: The Road to the Supreme Court 210

Ch. 20 The Court on the Brink 227

Ch. 21 Sectionalism on the March 230

Ch. 22 Dred Scott, Part 2: Reargument and Reconsideration 235

Ch. 23 Dred Scott, Part 3: The Opinions of the Justices 245

Ch. 24 Dred Scott, Part 4: The Reaction to the Court's Decision 268

Ch. 25 Ableman v. Booth, Part 2: The Court Decides 278

Pt. V The Isolated Court

Ch. 26 The Election of 1860289

Ch. 27 Kentucky v. Dennison and the Problem of Extradition 291

Conclusion: The Lessons of the Slavery Cases 299

Notes 303

Bibliography 335

Index 345

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  • Posted January 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Questiond without answers

    Given a choice of spending an afternoon reading legal history or in the dentist's chair, many would have to think which would be worse. I approached this as an important book in understanding the Civil War and a necessary read. I expected a dull heavy tome, stuffed with legalize designed to cure insomnia.
    This book meets none of my expectations.
    It is not dull. We look at each case in the historical and legal context of the times. The author never loses sight of the political, legal and personal considerations that matter so much in history. This is a well-written look at the eight major cases involving slavery the Marshall and Taney Court considered. When we reach the decision, we understand the forces involved and how they pulled the court. The author provides excellent word portraits of each man, how he reaches the Court and his politics.
    It is not stuffed with legalize. The author uses the minimum legalize possible. He takes the time to cover the meaning of the term as used at the time. This keeps the reader current and makes for very little "huh?"
    It will not cure insomnia. This is not the same as reading about Pickett's Charge but it moves and kept my attention. This is legal history made interesting and enjoyable.
    Slavery caused few legal problems until some states emancipated the slaves. As America divided into Slave State or Free State, legal problems multiplied. These problems come to the Supreme Court with greater frequency as war comes closer. The relationship of the states and the federal government, status of slaves and questions involving free persons of color are major questions. The Court tries to settle these questions as the opportunity arise. The author takes the time to cover each legal question. This allows him to show how the Court's decision affects the nation. In addition, he shows how dissenting opinions were developed.
    1825 to 1861 is a lively time. The nation is expanding, exploring and questioning. Things we considered settled are open questions with no answer. Nullification or something like it, disunion or something like it is nationwide. A state's answer to an issue often depends on the question being asked. Chapter eight, fifteen and twenty asses the accomplishments and failures of the Court's actions at a point in time. The Court could not stop the process that lead to war. However, the author shows that they tried to maintain the Union and settle the question of slavery.
    The Foreword is nothing like the book! The Foreword is an intemperate attack on the evil of slavery complete with comparing the South to the Third Reich. It is nothing like the book and the publisher has done the author a disservice using it. Do not expect the following book to have the attitudes of the Foreword. The book is a clear balanced history of what happened during this time. The author is not attacking but reporting and informing.
    This is a very good book. It will give the reader a clearer understanding of the legal issues involved and how the courts tried to deal with them.

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