From an Angry Reader:

Dear VDH,

I faithfully read and enjoy your many commentaries on current events. But surely, as a historian, you should realize that Dred Scott was rightly decided, as I thought even in my youth. Even my reliably left-leaning constitutional-law professor colleague, who was shocked by my condemnation of Wickard v. Filburn, agrees with me on this.

Christopher Boorse


Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Sort of Angry Reader Christopher Boorse,

Your “left-leaning constitutional-law professor colleague” I fear is sorely mistaken. If one accepts the narrow, amoral proposition that humans can be enslaved, and that chattel slaves are thus mere property of their masters to hunt down as they please, and as, American native-born, they still do not have rights and constitutional protections of citizenship, then I suppose Chief Roger B. Taney’s decision was consistently logical.

But I do not accept any of those legal or moral assumptions, and so cannot accept that slavery can be either legal or moral, or that humans can become the mere property of other humans, or that those born in the United States to others born in the United States are not citizens with legal protections.

The Dred Scott ruling represented the legal gymnastics of an ethically bankrupt mind—and was seen as such within a few years. Taney could easily have overturned Southern-state statutes, by ruling that slavery was an innate denial of the protections offered by the Bill of Rights for those born in the United States, or a violation of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence or that in legal proceedings and punishment slavery violated the cruel and unusual punishment prohibition clause. But he did not and so rightly suffered history’s condemnation.

Victor Hanson

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