Fehrenbacher - The Dred Scott Case

February 07, 2006

Don Fehrenbacher
The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics
New York, Oxford University Press, 1978

I think I have been reading this book for a year.

And that is a compliment. The book was both interesting enough to keep me from chucking it into the "did not finish" bin and long enough that it took a mighty lot of reading to get through it. (I also put it aside several times to read other more pressing books.)

Fehrenbacher does a wonderful job of digging deeply into a single complex historical moment, explaining the events, the actors, and the consequences of their actions. It is a book about a court case, and mostly about the meaning that people assigned to the court case. Fehrenbacher suggests that the real impact of the case came not when it was decided but about 18 months later. Southern Democrats who had other reasons for disliking and distrusting Stephen Douglas used the case to attack him for his actions during the Lecompton controversy, while Republicans both claimed that the case was full of inadmissable dicta and argued that the case was yet another crucial step in the slave power conspiracy intended to use the federal government to make slavery legal across the nation regardless of the wishes of local inhabitants.

The book is older, but still holds together well. Good stuff, and I got at least 20 minutes of class time out of it.

Posted by Red Ted at February 7, 2006 09:13 PM | TrackBack
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