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Editorial response of the Richmond, Virginia ENQUIRER to the Dred Scott decision, 13 March 1857

DOCUMENT DESCRIPTION

The Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, issued in March 1857, held that African Americans were not, and never could be, citizens of the United States. It also overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (already repealed by Congress), which had outlawed slavery in some of the territories. The Court held that the Constitution protected slaveholders' property interests in their slaves, and that Congress therefore could not prohibit slavery in the territories. The decision inflamed growing tensions between the North and South over the issues of slavery and the balance of power between the states and federal government. Here, the Richmond, Virginia ENQUIRER -- a Democratic and pro-slavery southern newspaper -- responds to the decision.

TRANSCRIPT

Abolitionism, from its earliest inception to this passing hour, in all its efforts and alms, has ever been based upon assumptions of an authority paramount to the the Constitution, advocated with arguments teeming with treason, and enforced by means regardless of recognized rights and the laws of the land. -- It has, however, always clamored loudly for liberty and equality, and justice among men. Uplifting their hand in holy horror, its designing demagogues have been wont to shriek and wail, rave and storm, and impiously appeal to Heaven by turns, as they impose upon the popular mind of the North with their perverted portraitures of Southern slavery, contemptible caricatures of Southern society, and harrowing calumnies upon Southern character. But with all their trickery and treason, their Tyrian-tongued professions of fidelity to freedom, and their indignation and sorrow over the enormities of negro slavery, it has heretofore been the peculiar policy -- at least of those of the schools more moderate than the maligners of Washington and repudiators of the Bible -- to claim for the federal government the right of prescribing the bounds of slavery, prohibiting its extension, and all other latitudinarian legislation on the subject, not in conflict with the most liberal construction of the Constitution. And, now, that the Supreme Court of the United States -- the accredited interpreter of the Constitution and arbiter of disagreements between the several States -- after the most profound research, thorough investigation of facts and analysis of principle, after deep deliberation, impartially and without prejudice; now, that this august tribunal has declared a calm conviction, sustained with irrefragable reasoning, which not only annihilates the superstructure but also destroys the foundation of the theory upon which their warfare has been waged against the institutions of the South, they are completely taken aback, nonplused and bewildered, confounded and confused. Even the federal government, the favorite upon which they have fawned, refuses to abet them. But though they have been brought to a stand-still as suddenly as the laborers on the tower of Babel, they will not long remain inactive, paralyzed by the unexpected blow in the hey day of hope, and gazing vacantly upon the wreck before them and behind them. Effectually foiled in an effort they had been making for years, defeated in the field of their own choice, driven from the ground they have so often and so defiantly disputed, their centre has been broken and the army put to rout. -- But they will rally again with renovated vigor and with the determination of despair; reckless of wrong or right, regardless of the laws of God or man, they will rush to the ?, determined to "rule or ruin," to arrest the extension of slavery or to destroy the Constitution and the Union. Obliged to abandon their principle point of operations they will re- organize on another. Sebastopol is taken but the war is not ended.

For the future, we predict the Abolition party will not be divided into wings and factions, and schools of different measures, but with the same primary principles.

The moderate man of the North, who admits the right of the slave States to exclusive control over their own institutions, but who is opposed to the extension of slavery into the territories, and in favor of the exercise of Federal power to prevent it, will hereafter be found marching shoulder to shoulder in the ranks, with the furious, foolish fanatic, who would burn the Bible for a bonfire in honor of an emute in Virginia or South Carolina, and boast of having hung Washington in effigy because he was an owner of slaves. Every class and character, and type of abolitionism will be merged into an indistinguishable army of implacable assailants of the South. The fanatic will not be brought to sense and reason, and therefore to the level of the moderate man, who agrees with him in principle, but differs as to means and measures; but the moderate man, with the single stone upon which he stood, knocked from under him by the Supreme Court, will readily become a fanatic. They have both been educated in the same sectional school, and are both imbued with the same ideas on the subject of slavery -- except -- as the Irishman would say -- that one is a little more so than the other.

They both hate the South, but the one has so far confined his enmity to an opposition to the extension of slavery, with the belief that it would thus soon stifle itself in the narrowness of the compass, while the other has always rallied against its existence anywhere. And everywhere, as a curse, a scourge and abomination upon mankind, to be overthrown and eradicated at any cost, and by any means.

The moderate man has always counseled caution and prudence with perseverance; holding that Congress had arbitrary authority over the territories in relation to slavery, and that the obnoxious institution would be obliterated ere long from the face of the earth, if it could be kept out of the territories and confined to its existent limits. But now, that it is decided that Congress has not the authority to impose restrictions upon it -- to interpose obstacles in its pathway, and forbid a full and free exercise of the elective franchise of the sovereign people in regard to its adoption or rejection -- it is not reasonable to suppose that the inbred hatred will be quietly quelled into indifference or calmed down into acquiescence by a judicial decision in opposition to the instinct, and in contradistinction to the education of him whose forbearance and moderation of animosity towards the South, are attributable to his belief in the authority of the Federal government to say to the Southern people, that their institutions may go so far, but that they shall go no further. The man who can concede such rights to Congress, is already prepared to become the most unscrupulous, unreasoning, insane fanatic on the subject of slavery -- to denounce the Constitution as a counterfeit of freedom, and to look upon the Union as an experiment exploded.

To contend now that the General Government has jurisdiction over the domestic affairs of the States, that Congress has the right to mark out the limits or to interfere with its expansion into the territories, North or South, East or West, is to defy the Constitution, to repudiate the decrees of the highest judicial tribunal of the nation, to inculcate treason, to defame the guardian genius of liberty, to despoil our household gods with unholy hands, and to strike with parricidal poniard at the heart of the country. -- That all these outrages upon patriotism, liberty and law, will be perpetrated, we have indubitable evidence, in the defiance, the indignant denunciations, the anathemas and opprobrium hurled at and heaped upon the Supreme Court of the United States, by the anti-slavery press. Since its decision in the Dred Scott case, with the exception of the two dissenting Judges, that body has been assailed with the venom of vipers, and abused with all the balderdash of Billingsgate. In the insanity of their anger and agony, the Abolitionists are uttering curses deep and loud, tearing their hair, indulging in all sorts of grimaces and throwing themselves into every imaginable attitude of contortion.

We are really apprehensive that there will be an epidemic of apoplexy amongst them, unless they find in a few days, some safety-valve for their pent- up mortification and rage. The decision of the Dred Scott case has alarmingly aggravated the effects of "negrophobia." Some means must be devised to cool the of those who are affected with it, or there will either be a tremendous bursting of blood vessels, or all the insane asylums in Yankeedom will be inadequate for the accommodation of its victims. For our contemporary, the New York Evening Post, we feel an especial, a painful, solicitude. It seems to be sadly afflicted with this sudden sort of St. Vitus' dance, under the influence of which the abolitionists are leaping and weeping, kneeling and swearing, foaming and and fuming, yelling and gesticulating, like so many bedlamites. The Post, however, is "working off its steam" at the rate of forty knots an hour, which we trust will soon reduce it within the limit allowed by the law, according to the capacity of the boiler, and thus relieve us of all anxiety in regard to the danger of explosion. One puff from its pipe as it passed, containing at least twenty pounds, may be found in another column, not rarefied, but in its original condensed condition. Keep the valves open, and let the steam escape.

The decision in the Dred Scott case must be a finality, so far as the federal legislation on the institution of slavery is concerned. The fact has gone forth, the Constitution has been construed, and Congress must conform. Abolitionism must now unmask, and wage its warfare openly and above board against the government per se or bow to its behests and pass off the stage. Which alternative it will adopt, it needs no seer to say.