James Buchanan, Dred Scott & Dickinson College

buchanan-dred-1Before James Buchanan was sworn in as President in 1857, he desperately wanted to put the slavery issue to rest. He thought that a consensus decision against Dred Scott in the Supreme Court would be able to do just that. The court consisted of 5 slaveowners and 4 non-slaveowners, assuring at least a 5-4 opinion against Scott. To lock down a non-slaveowner’s vote, he turned to his college ties.

buchanan-dred-2A graduate of Dickinson College, Buchanan already had the support of one fellow alumnus, Chief Justice Roger Taney. He turned to another alumnus, Associate Justice Robert Grier, to get his sixth vote. During the transition period, Buchanan lobbied Grier fiercely – regardless of executive/judicial impropriety and the fact that he actually wasn’t yet President. In one correspondence, Grier wrote to Buchanan: “We will not let any other of our brethren know anything about the cause of our anxiety to produce the result” and that Buchanan’s actions were “contrary to our usual practice.”

buchanan-dred-3Before Taney swore in Buchanan at inauguration, he leaned forward and whispered into Buchanan’s ear. 2 days later, The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision was announced. Grier voted with the majority. The subject of Taney’s whisper was a conspiracy theory throughout Buchanan’s presidency.