Look at the facts in the case. Dred Scott, an alleged Missouri slave, brings a suit against his claimant, for his freedom, upon the ground that his master, having voluntarily removed him from Missouri on to free soil, he thereby became free. The Supreme Court decide that Dred Scott is not a citizen of Missouri or of the United States, and therefore was not entitled to bring a suit in that Court; hence they dismiss his suit for want of jurisdiction. That, then, was the only point for them to decide, and that decided, there was an end of the case. The suit fell because the party bringing it had no rights in that Court.
Beyond this legal point the Court had no power to decide anything. They had no right to go into the merits of a case, when the case itself was dismissed for want of jurisdiction. All that follows is simply extra judicial and is entitled to be regarded only as the unauthorized opinion of so many individuals.
At the time when Chief Justice Marshall was on the bench, he gave it as the opinion of the Court, incidentally, that Congress had full and unlimited power over the Territories. This opinion was once cited in the Senate, to Gen. Cass, as authoritative and conclusive; but Gen. Cass replied that the opinion was an incidental one, foreign to the case at issue, and was a mere obiter dictum -- an opinion, but not law. The Democratic party sustained Gen. Cass in this view, and from that day to this has refused to be bound by that decision of the Supreme Court. On the same ground we object to this decision. It is a mere opinion, delivered in a case in which the Court admitted it had no jurisdiction -- a mere obiter dictum, devoid of all legal force or authority.
But if this were not the case, we have High
Democratic authority for disregarding all such
decisions. Prior to the great Bank struggle of
1832, the U. S. Supreme Court had decided a
National Bank to be constitutional. Gen. Jackson
and the Democratic party set this decision
aside, and pronounced the Bank unconstitutional.
Gen. Jackson utterly refused to be
guided in his political opinions by the Supreme
Court. He had sworn to support the Constitution,
he said, as he understood it, and not as the
Supreme Court understood it. We may safely
plant ourselves upon that ground.
The Constitution was ordained to establish Justice and secure the blessings of Liberty to the people; and it will be worth one struggle, at least, to prevent it from being thus turned from its high aims to subserve the lusts of tyranny. The Constitution was made by the people and for the people; and to the people, the sovereign power in this confederacy, we appeal from this decision. They understand the charter of their liberties, we hope, full well enough to rebuke and defeat, at the polls, this effort to give the whole country up to the domination of the slave power.
This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Entered by Lloyd Benson. .) This electronic version may not be copied, or linked to, or otherwise used for commercial purposes, (including textbook or publication-related websites) without prior written permission. The views expressed in this document are for educational, historical, and scholarly use only, and are not intended to represent the views of the project contributors or Furman University.