Editorial on Dred Scott Decision.


This scathing editorial from the New York Tribune argues that the decision of the Supreme Court on the Dred Scott case renders the Constitution of the United States inhumane and oppressive by making slavery law national and slaves property. The editorial also contends that since this is now a national law, all people, regardless of whether they live in a slave or free state, are responsible for its inhumanity.


[1] It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the recent decision of the Supreme Court. The grounds and methods of that decision we have exposed elsewhere; and we now turn from them to contemplate the great fact which it establishes — the fact that Slavery is National; and that, until that remote period when different Judges, sitting in this same Court, shall reverse this wicked and false judgment, the Constitution of the United States is nothing better than the bulwark of inhumanity and oppression.

It is most true that this decision is bad law; that it is based on false historical premises and wrong interpretations of the Constitution; that it does not at all represent the legal or judicial opinion of the Nation; that it is merely a Southern sophism clothed with the dignity of our highest Court. Nevertheless there it is; the final action of the National Judiciary, established by the founders of the Republic to interpret the Constitution, and to embody the ultimate legal conclusions of the whole people — an action proclaiming that in the view of the Constitution slaves are property. The inference is plain. If slaves are recognized as property by the Constitution, of course no local or State law can either prevent property being carried through an individual State or Territory, or forbid its being sold as such wherever its owner may choose to hold it. This is all involved in the present decision; but let a single case draw from the Court an official judgment that slaves can be held and protected under National law, and we shall see men buying slaves for the New York market. There will be no legal power to prevent it. At this moment, indeed, any wealthy New York jobber connected with the Southern trade can put in his next orders: “Send me a negro cook, at the lowest market value! Buy me a waiter! Balance my account with two chambermaids and a truckman!” Excepting the interference of the Underground Railroad and the chance of loss, there will be nothing to stop this. But then these underhanded efforts for stealing property must, of course, be checked by our Police. Mr. Matsell will have no more right to allow gentlemen’s servants to be spirited away by burgarious Abolitionists than gentlemen’s spoons. They are property under even stronger pledges of security than mere lifeless chattels. The whole power of the State — the military, the Courts and Governor of the State of New York — will necessarily be sworn to protect each New York slave-owner from the robbery or burglary of his negro. If they are not sufficient, why then the United States Army and Navy can be called upon to guard that singular species of property which alone of all property the Constitution of the United States has especially recognized. Slaves can be kept in Boston; Mr. Toombs can call the roll of his chattels on the slope of Bunker Hill; auctions of black men may be held in front of Faneuil Hall, and the slave-ship, protected by the guns of United States frigates, may land its dusky cargo at Plymouth Rock. The free hills of Vermont, the lakes of Maine, the valleys of Connecticut, the city where the ancient Oak of Liberty has wisely fallen, may be traversed by the gangs of the negro-driver, and enriched by the legitimate commerce of the slave-pen. Are we told that public opinion will prevent this? What can public opinion do against the Supreme Court and all the power of the United States? Shall not a citizen of this Union have the right to take and hold his property, his horses, his oxen, his dogs, his slaves, wherever it seems to him good? According to the law now established, the Free-State men of Kansas are robbers, for they attack the Constitutional and inalienable rights of property. The bogus laws of which they presume to complain, but which the mild and paternal punishment of death is not to protect from infractions, are just and necessary laws for the safety of those sacred rights. The number of Free Soil men in that Territory can make no difference hereafter, as it has made none hitherto. Slavery is there, as the ownership of horses or land is there, by supreme national law. Of what use, then, to contend for such a shadow as the difference between a Free and a Slave Constitution? Or what sense in that old fiction of State Rights? The States have no rights as respects Freedom; their rights consist only in establishing and strengthening Slavery — nothing more.

Another most pregnant change is wrought by this decision, in respect of the Northern people. We have been accustomed to regard Slavery as a local matter for which we were in no wise responsible. As we have been used, to say, it belonged to the Southern States alone, and they must answer for it before the world. We can say this no more. Now, wherever the stars and stripes wave, they protect Slavery and represent Slavery. The black and cursed stain is thick on our hands also. From Maine to the Pacific, over all future conquests and annexations, wherever in the islands of western seas, or in the South American Continent, or in the Mexican Gulf, the flag of the Union, by just means or unjust, shall be planted, there it plants the curse, and tears, and blood, and unpaid toil of this “institution.” The Star of Freedom and the stripes of bondage are henceforth one. American Republicanism and American Slavery are for the future synonymous. This, then, is the final fruit. In this all the labors of our statesmen, the blood of our heroes, the life-long cares and toils of our forefathers, the aspirations of our scholars, the prayers of good men, have finally ended! America the slavebreeder and slaveholder!




New York Tribune


[1] Tribune. New York, NY. 11 March, 1857. See also the Dred Scott Decision in this archive. 

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