April 2008 Vol. 106 No. 6 THE REVIEW

Allen: Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court 1837 - 1857

Sam Erman

An "Unintended Consequence":
Dred Scott Reinterpreted

Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837–1857. By Austin Allen. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press. 2006. Pp. x, 274. Cloth, $59.95; paper, $22.95.

Austin Allen’s monograph marks the 150th anniversary of the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford  with a revisionist interpretation of that oft-examined case. Many scholars have portrayed the case as a proslavery decision that fanned sectional fires. After all, the Court held that blacks were not U.S. citizens and that Congress was impotent to bar slavery in U.S. territories. Allen, by contrast, understands the case primarily as a judicial attempt to rationalize federal commerce and slavery jurisprudences. Part I argues that this ambitious reinterpretation enriches, but does not topple, existing Dred Scott historiography. In the case of the Court’s citizenship ruling, Allen’s understanding of Dred Scott depends on a legal model of U.S. citizenship. While Part II commends the historicity of this approach, it criticizes Allen for overstating the independence of law from extrajudicial pressures and thereby understating the significance of the Dred Scott citizenship holding.

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