Origins of the Dred Scott Case
Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837–1857

Austin Allen

A new and original look at one of the Supreme Court's most explosive decisions


"In this original and provocative look at one of the most important judicial decisions in American history, Austin Allen skillfully re-creates the mid-nineteenth century Supreme Court's intellectual world. For the first time, Allen dissects the internal workings of Roger Taney's Court, showing how the justices constructed a logic parallel but separate from the political controversies that raged outside their Court. This book is indispensable for understanding the intricate connections between Jacksonian democracy, the Supreme Court, and the coming of the Civil War."
—Christopher Waldrep, author of The Many Faces of Judge Lynch

"Austin Allen has written an absolutely superb, and original, book that is full of extraordinarily clearly presented insights about the various legal contexts within which the Dred Scott litigation occurred and was decided by the Supreme Court. Anyone interested in the development of American constitutional law and the role of the Supreme Court must read this book."
—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law

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The Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision denied citizenship to African Americans and enabled slavery's westward expansion. It has long stood as a grievous instance of justice perverted by sectional politics. Austin Allen finds that the outcome of Dred Scott hinged not on a single issue—slavery—but on a web of assumptions, agendas, and commitments held collectively and individually by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and his colleagues.

Allen carefully tracks arguments made by Taney Court justices in more than 1,600 reported cases in the two decades prior to Dred Scott and in its immediate aftermath. By showing us the political, professional, ideological, and institutional contexts in which the Taney Court worked, Allen reveals that Dred Scott was not simply a victory for the Court's prosouthern faction. It was instead an outgrowth of Jacksonian jurisprudence, an intellectual system that charged the Court with protecting slavery, preserving both federal power and state sovereignty, promoting economic development, and securing the legal foundations of an emerging corporate order—all at the same time. Here is a wealth of new insight into the internal dynamics of the Taney Court and the origins of its most infamous decision.

Southern Legal Studies

Page count: 288 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $28.95

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Austin Allen is an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston, Downtown.