From Marxist historian Eric Foner’s latest bookThe Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (p. 134):

“[A]s the New York Times pointed out, by nationalizing the right to property in slaves the Dred Scott decision made the doctrine of state rights . . . [slavery’s] foe.  A number of northern states had already enacted personal liberty laws that prohibited public officials from cooperating in the rendition of fugitive slaves . . . .  Radicals in some states invoked the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-99, in which Jefferson and Madison had claimed for the states the power to challenge or even override national legislation . . . .  Some Republicans spoke of nullification.  ‘The fact is, one Radical [Republican] wrote in 1859, that to prevent enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, we have got to come to Calhoun’s ground.’”

Foner then praises Lincoln for denouncing nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act by northern states because he was supposedly such a stickler for “the rule of law.”  Even a federal “law” that props up slavery.  To Abe, propping up the dictatorial powers of the central state was much more important.

cross-posted from the blog

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