U.S. History/American History


Chief Justice Roger Taney Determines the Legal Status of Slaves, 1857
What does Taney’s decision mean to the outbreak of Civil War?

From time to time, the Supreme Court decides that it knows best how to resolve a controversial political dispute and issues a decision designed to end debate on the matter.  Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) was one such decision.    In that decision, the Supreme Court held that slaves were not citizens and had no rights to file a lawsuit in court.  The Court also went on to hold that the Federal government's laws banning slavery from federal territories were unconstitutional and that slave owners had the right to bring there slaves into free States without having their slaves declared free.

Chief Justice Taney's majority decision was based on the common racist beliefs of the time that blacks were "regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

This decision emboldened many southerners to push for additional rights for slave holders and greatly angered many in the north to step up opposition to slavery.  The increased northern opposition resulted in the election of the first anti-slavery President (Lincoln) which in turn led to southern States attempted secession and Civil War.

It is certainly possible that even without this decision, war was inevitable.  But the Dred Scott decision certainly inflamed the issue and had the opposite affect of its intent.  

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

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Truman Scholar

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