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Roger Taney and Injustice: The Dred Scott Decision

65 min

Guiding Questions

  • How did Justice Roger Taney fail to uphold justice in the Dred Scott case? 
  • What impact did Taney’s decision in the Supreme Court case have on the issue of slavery and sectional tensions?


  • Students will explore what injustice means.
  • Students will explain the importance of natural rights in a free society.

  • Secession 
  • Combustible 
  • Infamous 
  • Travesty 
  • Manumitted  
  • Enlightened 
  • Haggled 
  • Contentious 
  • Exacerbated 
  • Maxim


David Blight: “Could the War have been Prevented?”

Finkleman, Paul. Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Lincoln, Abraham, “The Dred Scott Decision: Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 26, 1857,” in, Roy P. Basler, ed. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Cambridge: Da Capo, 2001.

Maltz, Earl M. Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.

Newmyer, R. Kent. The Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson,

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. New York: Harper, 2011.

Simon, James F. Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President’s War Powers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Ask the students to respond to the following journal prompt, Was there ever a time in your life when you had good intentions to solve a problem but things did not turn out as planned? 

After giving them some time to reflect and write, ask students to volunteer to share their experience. Follow up with: 

  • Were your intentions good or self-serving? 
  • Did you not have enough information to offer advice? 
  • Were you intervening in a problem you were ill-equipped to solve? 
  • Were you too arrogant in thinking you could have solved the problem? 
  • Should you have just have not gotten involved? 
  • Why did bad consequences result from your intervention despite your good intention? 

Explain that many important leaders in politics, the military, business, or local communities have made decisions that had good intentions but bad consequences. Ask, How can I avoid this situation in the future with a greater sense of the virtue of humility? 

This optional introductory activity is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narrative in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction. 

Have students read “Injustice: Roger Taney and Injustice Essay” either on their own or in small groups.  

Next, have students skim the “Excerpts from Majority and Dissenting Opinions” handout and highlight any words they are unfamiliar with. Write definitions on the board to help with comprehension and then have students read the excerpts either on their own or in small groups.  

After completing the two readings, have students answer the questions in Discussion Guide 1 and Discussion Guide 2 either in written form, or in a discussion with a partner or as a whole class.

Have students draft a short paragraph explaining why injustice poses a threat to a republic. They should also list an example of what they can do to ensure that justice is carried out.

Students should research a time from U.S. history when injustice was committed and how people worked to help justice be carried out. Students can present their research in a PowerPoint, essay, or podcast with a partner.

Student Handouts

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