Landmark Decision - The Dred Scott Case of 1857 (March 6)

Dred Scott v. Sandford, was a lawsuit decided by the United States Supreme Court,  ruling that people of African descent, whether or not they were slaves, could never be citizens of the United States; slaves were property. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. The decision emboldened pro-slavery forces and infuriated anti-slavery supporters by making every territory and new state open to slavery.

Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield, IL, following the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court. 

6/26/1857  In those days the Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all; but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed, and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, if its framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it. All the powers of earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the Theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in the prison house…One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him, and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key; the keys in the hands of a hundred different men, and they scattered to a hundred different and distant places…

   He [Senator Stephen A. Douglas] finds Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes all men, black as well as white…he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes! Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands with asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.

   I think the authors of that notable instrument [the Declaration] intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctiveness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere… FT 39-42