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The Dred Scott Decision "Cannot Stand"

Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave and leader of the anti-slavery movement in the North. This excerpt is from an address he delivered to the Anniversary of the American Abolition Society held in New York, May 14, 1857.

Mr. Chairman, Friends, and Fellow Citizens:

This infamous decision of the Slaveholding wing of the Supreme Court maintains that slaves are within the contemplation of the Constitution of the United States, property; that slaves are property in the same sense that horses, sheep, and swine are property; that the old doctrine that slavery is a creature of local law is false; that the right of the slaveholder to his slave does not depend upon the local law, but is secured wherever the Constitution of the United States extends; that Congress has no right to prohibit slavery anywhere; that slavery may go in safety anywhere under the star-spangled banner; that colored persons of African descent have no rights that white men are bound to respect; that colored men of African descent are not and cannot be citizens of the United States.

You will readily ask me how I am affected by this devilish decision—this judicial incarnation of wolfishness? My answer is, and no thanks to the slaveholding wing of the Supreme Court, my hopes were never brighter than now.

The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater. Judge Taney can do many things, but he cannot change the essential nature of things—making evil good, and good evil.

Such a decision cannot stand.

The cries of the slave have gone forth to the world, and up to the throne of God. This decision, in my view, is a means of keeping the nation awake on the subject. It is another proof that God does not mean that we shall go to sleep, and forget that we are a slaveholding nation.

Those who seek slavery in the Union, and who are everlastingly dealing blows upon the Union, in the belief that they are killing slavery, are most woefully mistaken. They are fighting a dead form instead of a living and powerful reality. It is clearly not because of the peculiar character of our Constitution that we have slavery, but the wicked pride, love of power, and selfish perverseness of the American people. Slavery lives in this country not because of any paper Constitution, but in the moral blindness of the American people, who persuade themselves that they are safe, though the rights of others may be struck down.

Source | Frederick Douglass, "The Dred Scott Decision: Speech, Delivered, in part, at the Anniversary of the American Abolition Society, Held in New York, May 14th, 1857," in Two Speeches by Frederick Douglass, on The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress,
Creator | Frederick Douglass
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Frederick Douglass, “The Dred Scott Decision "Cannot Stand",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 23, 2023,

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