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Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History

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The Important Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on the Slavery Question.

Cincinnati, Ohio, Daily Enquirer [Democratic]

(8 March 1857)

The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the famous "Dred Scott" case, an abstract of which, as rendered by the Chief Justice, was contained in our telegraphic columns yesterday, is an event of great political importance. The Court of last resort, which has jurisdiction over questions appertaining to the powers of the Federal Government, decided that Congress has no power under the Constitution to legislate upon slavery in the Territories, and that all such legislation as the so-called Missouri Compromise, which undertook to do so, is null and void. This is a complete vindication of the doctrine of the Nebraska Bill, which now, it is judicially determined, only swept an illegal and unconstitutional measure from the statute-book. To the friends of the "Wilmot Proviso" and the Abolition legislation for the Territories this decision of the Supreme Court will be most crushing and annihilating. Hereafter they will have no pretense whatever for keeping Congress and the country in a turmoil on that subject, as it would be no use for Congress to pass laws on a subject which the Supreme Court would immediately annul, in accordance with this decision. The whole question of slavery, in its judicial aspects, has been argued by the best lawyers before the Court, which, after mature and long deliberation, have come to the conclusion announced above. The influence of their action upon the country must neccesarily be immense. The whole people, without distinction of party, have confidence in that august tribunal, the Supreme Court of the United States, which, by virtue of the age, eminent legal attainments of its members, their life tenure, which places them beyond the influence of party feeling, have no motive whatever in the world to bias and corrupt their decision

Additional force will be given it when it is known that the bench, composed of Northern and Southern members, was nearly unanimous on the main point, there being but two dissenters out of the nine Justices who compose the Court. One of them, Judge McLean, of this city, had previously volunteered an opinion on the subject years ago, before it was argued or came before him judicially; and, sustaining this unfortunate position, his dissent was naturally anticipated. It is to be regretted that he should thus have unnecessarily committed himself on a point that he was liable to be called upon to determine as a Judge.

While thus anticipating a general acquiescence in the decision of the Supreme Court, it would be too much to expect that it will escape attack and censure from disappointed and embittered partisans, whose political capital and hope of office will wither before it. They will doubtless blackguard and assail the Court; but it will still further weaken their cause among sober and intelligent men, who will never countenance their foray upon an honest and intelligent Judiciary. The men who aided in the passage of the Nebraska Bill of 1854, and sustained it against an unreasoning and infatuated opposition, will, by this decision, be placed in an enviable attitude before the country, and will have a good position assigned them in history. Coming after the result of the late election and the new President's inaugural, it is the last of a series of triumphs, political and judicial, to which hereafter they will ever refer with pleasure and pride.

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