“It may not be improper for me here to add that so great an interest did I take in that decision, and in its principles being sustained and understood in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, that I took the trouble at my own cost to print or have printed a large edition of that decision to scatter it over the State; and unless the mails have miscarried, there is scarcely a member elected to the Legislature who has not received a copy with my frank.”—Vice-president Breckinridge, Frankfort Speech, December, 1859.
DOUGLAS AND LINCOLN ON DRED SCOTT
Manifestly, when the educated intellects of the learned judges differed so radically concerning the principles of law and the facts of history applicable to the Dred Scott question, the public at large could hardly be expected to receive the new dogmas without similar divergence of opinion. So far from exercising a healing influence, the decision widened immensely the already serious breach between the North and the South. The persons immediately involved in the litigation were quickly lost sight of; but the constitutional principle affirmed by the court was defended by the South and denounced by the North with zeal and acrimony. The Republican party did not further question or propose to disturb the final judgment in the case; but it declared that the Dred Scott doctrines of the Supreme Court should not be made a rule of political action, and precisely this the South, together with the bulk of the Northern Democrats, insisted should be done.
[Sidenote] 19 Howard, pp. 460-1.
A single phase of the controversy will serve to illustrate the general drift of the discussion throughout the Union. Some three months after the delivery of the opinion of the court, Senator Douglas found himself again among his constituents in Illinois, and although there was no political campaign in progress, current events and the roused state of public feeling seemed to require that he should define his views in a public speech. It marks his acuteness as a politician that he already realized what a fatal stab the Dred Scott decision had given his vaunted principle of “Popular Sovereignty,” with which he justified his famous repeal of the Missouri Compromise. He had ever since argued that Congressional prohibition of slavery was obsolete and useless, and that the choice of slavery or freedom ought to be confided to the local Territorial laws, just as it was confided to local State constitutions. But the Dred Scott decision announced that slaves were property which Congress could not exclude from the Territories, adding also the inevitable conclusion that what Congress could not do a Territorial Legislature could not.