Q6. How did the Dred Scott decision impact African Americans? Explain the Supreme Court’s decision, its implications for the expansion of slavery, and how it limited black equality in the United States?
1. The Dred Scott ruling alarmed white and black abolitionists, blacks, and white northerners alike. For white northerners, even those who did not believe blacks were their equals, the decision was more evidence of a Slave Power conspiracy to undermine free white labor. Blacks were enraged by the Dred Scott decision; the Court had confirmed that they were not citizens, even though they were free. Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Robert Purvis blasted the decision; Douglass called the ruling “judicial wolfishness.”
2. Many blacks left the United States in the wake of the decision. Some fled to Canada, which by 1860 had a sizable black population. Black leaders such as H. Ford Douglas, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and Martin R. Delany fled to Canada in the 1850s.
3. Black nationalism, which evolved from the idea of black self-reliance into black self-determination and called for an independent black nation, became the rallying cry of blacks who were disillusioned by the Scott decision. Martin R. Delany, the father of black nationalism, championed black emigration to Canada, Central and South America, the West Indies, and West Africa. The first national emigration convention was held in Cleveland in 1854. By 1859, Delany and Robert Campbell, a Jamaican chemist, traveled to Africa in search of land for settlement along the Niger River valley.
4. Interest in emigration remained widespread, but it also inspired debates; proponents emphasized black self-rule, while opponents looked to the ACS’s failed experiment and pointed out Liberia’s high mortality rate and inefficient government. James Theodore Holly, an Episcopalian priest and missionary, argued for emigration to Haiti. In 1861, Holly led 101 blacks to an ill-fated, short-lived settlement there.
5. In 1859, five black men joined John Brown’s antislavery forces, who planned an insurrection that was to begin in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and move south. Brown and a band of twenty-one men raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in the hope that slaves would rush to get arms and liberate themselves and their fellow captives. The slaves never showed up, and federal troops came instead. Ten of Brown’s comrades were killed, including two of Brown’s sons. Five members of Brown’s militia escaped, and seven, including Brown, were captured.
6. As news spread of the sensational raid on Harpers Ferry, reports inflamed the conspiratorial views that the slave South and the free North had of each other. Proslavery advocates saw Brown as a madman and contended that the North intended to destroy their way of life, and black and white abolitionists—even those who opposed violence—lauded Brown and his comrades as martyrs. Before his execution in December of 1859, Brown handed a note to a jailer in which he predicted that slavery would not end without “verry [sic] much bloodshed.”
7. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate, won the presidential election. All of Lincoln’s electoral votes came from voters in the free states of the North and West; the majority of the electorate voted against him. Lincoln emerged from a crowded race in which the northern and southern wings of the Democratic Party ran separate candidates and the hastily organized Constitutional Union Party offered a fourth choice. He won just 39 percent of the popular vote. Despite the fact that he vowed not to disturb slavery where it already existed, southern states made plans to withdraw from the Union.