Page:The Republican Party (1920).djvu/32

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The Formative Period

cratic party asunder. This was made the more evident when, in March, 1857 the Dred Scott decision was rendered by the Supreme Court declaring that Congress had no power to prohibit the extension of slavery to the territories, despite the constitutional provision that "the Congress shall have power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States." Obviously this decision practically outlawed the paramount issue upon which the Republican party had been founded and destroyed the party's reason for existence. It was folly to demand that Congress should prevent the extension of slavery into the territories, when the Supreme Court had decided that it had no power to do so. Republicans generally denounced the decision as unsound and an unwarrantable meddling by the judiciary in a purely political matter and made it plain that they would seek its reversal. Nevertheless the decision had to be respected for the time and it made it necessary for the party to put other planks in its platform.

Fortunately for the Republicans the Democrats persisted in the course which had provoked the revolt against them. In the congressional elections of 1856 the Democrats secured a majority so that the Thirty-fifth Congress which met in December, 1857 contained a strong Democratic majority in each house over Republicans and "Know Nothings" combined. It thereupon proceeded with offensive proslavry legislation. Early in May, 1858 the spurious "Lecompton Constitution" was adopted by Congress as the basis for admitting Kansas as a state, and of course as a slave state. But in August following the people of Kansas overwhelmingly rejected it preferring to remain out of