Although at the time of its promulgation, it was claimed by some of the more conservative pro-slavery leaders that the Dred Scott dictum applied only to the Territories, giving the masters the legal authority to enter them with their slaves, that position was clearly deceptive. The principle involved, as laid down by the Court, was altogether too broad for that construction. In effect it put the proprietorship of human beings upon the same footing with other property rights, and claimed for it the same constitutional protection. The bolder men of the South, like Toombs of Georgia, did not hesitate to give that interpretation to the Court’s pronouncement, and to insist on it with brutal frankness. If they were wrong, the Court was putty in their hands and they could easily have had a supplemental ruling that would have gone to any extent.
If the Dred Scott decision had been promulgated by our highest court, and the slaveholders had insisted upon the license it was intended to give them for taking their slave property into free territory, at the time that Garrison was being dragged by a mob through Boston’s streets; when Birney’s printing-press in Cincinnati was being tumbled into the Ohio River; when Pennsylvania Hall, the Quaker Abolitionists’ forty-thousand-dollar construction, was ablaze in Philadelphia; when Lovejoy, the Abolition martyr, was bleeding out his life in one of the streets of Alton, Illinois—when, in fact, the whole land was swayed by a frenzied hatred of the men and women who dared to question slavery’s right to supremacy, the writer believes the movement would have been successful. Public opinion was so inclined in States like Indiana and Illinois, and even in Ohio, that they might have been easily toppled over to the South. Indeed, at that time it is a problem how Massachusetts would have voted on a proposition to “slaveryize” her soil. The surprising thing, as we look back to that period, is that slavery did not get a foothold in some of the free States, if not in all of them.
But by the time the South was ready to play its trump card, it was too late. The game was lost. Public opinion had become revolutionized throughout the North. The leaven of Abolitionism had got in its work. The men and women, few in number and weak in purse and worldly position as they were, who had enlisted years before in the cause of emancipation, and had fought for it in the face of almost every conceivable discouragement, had at last won a great