The Dred Scott decision was an eye opener to Northerners who believed that slavery was tolerable as long as it stayed in the South. It was feared that if Congress lost power to regulate slavery in new territories, it could expand quickly into the western U.S and then into once-free states. Lincoln addressed this growing fear during a speech in Springfield, Illinois on June 17, 1858.
Many northerners who had not been against the South and slavery began to realize that if they didn’t stop slavery now, they might never again have the chance. This growing fear in the North helped to contribute to the Civil War.
Four years after the Scott v. Sanford decision, parts of the proslavery half of the Union had seceded and the nation was engaged in Civil War. Because of the feelings it sparked on both sides, the Dred Scott decision accelerated the start of the Civil War.
Dred Scott v. Sanford was not an easily forgotten case. That it continued to raise emotions well into the Civil War shows it helped bring on the war by hardening the positions of each side to a point where each were willing to fight over the issue of slavery. The North realized that if it did not act fast, the South might take the example of Dred Scott as a justification for expanding slavery into new territories and Free states alike.
The South recognized the threat of the Republican Party and knew that the party had gained a considerable amount of support as a result of the Northern nervousness in the aftermath of the decision. Scott’s case left America fractured and only complete elimination of slavery through war could cure it.
Source: Impact of Dred Scott
Copyright © 1995 Lisa Cozzens