The Supreme Court has recently added fuel to the abolition fire with a decision that was supposed to douse that fire. President James Buchanan promised that in his inaugural address on March 4, 1857, he said: "Slavery is a question that belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending, and will, it is understood, be speedily and finally settled."
The slavery issue finally settledhow wonderful that would be! The case before the Court deals with a man named Dred Scott. He has lived in Missouri as a slave. Then he spent several years in Wisconsin, a free territory. Did that make him free? Scott and others believe it did. Chief Justice Roger Taney gives his opinion, or explanation, of the case. He writes: "The question before us is, whether [Negroes] ... compose a portion of [the American] people and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not.... On the contrary, they [are] ... a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who [have] been subjugated by the dominant race.... [They] can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which [the Constitution] provides for ... citizens of the United States ."
Slaves are property, argues Taney, and the Fifth Amendment protects property. Therefore, the Missouri Compromisewhich doesn't respect the slaveowner's propertyis unconstitutional. That is the decision that President Buchanan thinks will settle the slavery question! What it settles is the question of war. It makes it almost certain. Even a peace-loving man like Frederick Douglass now believes there must be a war. "Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation," he says, "are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning."