In 1856, the Supreme Court, under the headship of Judge Taney, gave out the decision of the Dred Scott case. The purport of this decision was that a negro was not to be considered as a person but as a chattel; and that the taking of such negro chattel into free territory did not cancel or impair the property rights of the master. It appeared to the men of the North as if under this decision the entire country, including in addition to the national territories the independent States which had excluded slavery, was to be thrown open to the invasion of the institution. The Dred Scott decision, taken in connection with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (and the two acts were doubtless a part of one thoroughly considered policy), foreshadowed as their logical and almost inevitable consequence the bringing of the entire nation under the control of slavery. The men of the future State of Kansas made during 1856-57 a plucky fight to keep slavery out of their borders. The so-called Lecompton Constitution undertook to force slavery upon Kansas. This constitution was declared by the administration (that of President Buchanan) to have been adopted, but the fraudulent character of the voting was so evident that Walker, the Democratic Governor, although a sympathiser with slavery, felt compelled to repudiate it. This constitution was repudiated also by Douglas, although Douglas had declared that the State ought to be thrown open to slavery. Jefferson Davis, at that time Secretary of War, declared that "Kansas was in a state of rebellion and that the rebellion must be crushed." Armed bands from Missouri crossed the river to Kansas for the purpose of casting fraudulent votes and for the further purpose of keeping the Free-soil settlers away from the polls.
Grant now finds himself pitted against the first soldier of the continent, the leader who is to go down to history as probably the greatest soldier that America has ever produced. Lee's military career is a wonderful example of a combination of brilliancy, daring ingenuity of plan, promptness of action, and patient persistence under all kinds of discouragement, but it was not only through these qualities that it was possible for him to retain control, through three years of heavy fighting, of the territory of Virginia, which came to be the chief bulwark of the Confederacy. Lee's high character, sweetness of nature, and unselfish integrity of purpose had impressed themselves not only upon the Confederate administration which had given him the command but upon every soldier in that command. For the army of Northern Virginia Lee was the man behind the guns just as Lincoln came to be for all the men in blue. There never was a more devoted army and there probably never was a better handled army than that with which Lee defended for three years the lines across Northern Virginia and the remnants of which were finally surrendered at Appomattox.
Lincoln seems to have gone into the fight with full courage, the courage of his convictions. He felt that Douglas was a trimmer, and he believed that the issue had now been brought to a point at which the trimmer could not hold support on both sides of Mason and Dixon's Line. He formulated at the outset of the debate a question which was pressed persistently upon Douglas during the succeeding three weeks. This question was worded as follows: "Can the people of a United States territory, prior to the formation of a State constitution or against the protest of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery?" Lincoln's campaign advisers were of opinion that this question was inadvisable. They took the ground that Douglas would answer the question in such way as to secure the approval of the voters of Illinois and that in so doing he would win the Senatorship. Lincoln's response was in substance: "That may be. I hold, however, that if Douglas answers this question in a way to satisfy the Democrats of the North, he will inevitably lose the support of the more extreme, at least, of the Democrats of the South. We may lose the Senatorship as far as my personal candidacy is concerned. If, however, Douglas fails to retain the support of the South, he cannot become President in 1860. The line will be drawn directly between those who are willing to accept the extreme claims of the South and those who resist these claims. A right decision is the essential thing for the safety of the nation." The question gave no little perplexity to Douglas. He finally, however, replied that in his judgment the people of a United States territory had the right to exclude slavery. When asked again by Lincoln how he brought this decision into accord with the Dred Scott decision, he replied in substance: "Well, they have not the right to take constitutional measures to exclude slavery but they can by local legislation render slavery practically impossible." The Dred Scott decision had in fact itself overturned the Douglas theory of popular sovereignty or "squatter sovereignty." Douglas was only able to say that his sovereignty contention made provision for such control of domestic or local regulations as would make slavery impossible.
We may recall that, under the Constitution, the States of the South, while denying the suffrage to the negro, had secured the right to include the negro population as a basis for their representation in the lower House. In apportioning the representatives to the population, five negroes were to be counted as the equivalent of three white men. The passage, in 1854, of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the purpose of which was to confirm the existence of slavery and to extend the institution throughout the country, was carried in the House by thirteen votes. The House contained at that time no less than twenty members representing the negro population. The negroes were, therefore, in this instance involuntarily made the instruments for strengthening the chains of their own serfdom.
Lincoln's correspondence during 1862, a year which was in many ways the most discouraging of the sad years of the war, shows how much he had to endure in the matter of pressure of unrequested advice and of undesired counsel from all kinds of voluntary advisers and active-minded citizens, all of whom believed that their views were important, if not essential, for the salvation of the state. In September, 1862, Lincoln writes to a friend: