Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: Taney vs. Lincoln

I picked this up as a continuation of supreme court/federal history from the Marbury vs. Madison book. This wasn't as interesting. Cliff Sloan's history was a story of exploration and settlement as the court (and Washington DC) found their place in America. This is a story of their decline into irrelevance as they fought a futile campaign to preserve slavery in America. The Dred Scott decision was discarded in the north as soon as it was issued, the Prize cases were important not to America but to the British, and at the start of the war the Federal Government couldn’t even count on the loyalty of surrounding territory in Maryland.  The real action in this period happens not in DC but in the nation at large: fighting in Kansas, a revolt against the fugitive slave law in Wisconsin, the south's secession first from the Democratic Party and then from the nation.

Lincoln’s office was a product of the fighting in the country at large, and it is misleading to pose him and Taney in parallel. Their conflict was no more a match between equals then a speeding train hitting a car stalled on the tracks.

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