Lesson Two: America Responds to Dred Scott

Purpose of lesson will be to familiarize students with different reactions Americans had to the Dred Scott decision. Students should note that the Dred Scott case heightened tension between pro-slavery forces and anti-slavery forces.

Questions to conside

  • How did Americans react to the Dred Scott decision?
  • Are there patterns in language that the different sides use?


  1. Begin class by playing the audio file labeled “Dred Scott – Decision” in order to give students a quick review of the facts of the case.
  2. Next, explain to students that the Dred Scott case was the case of its time. Everyone knew about it and discussed it. As a result there were a wide range of opinions on the case. Explain to students that the purpose of today’s lesson will be to explore some of those opinions.
  3. Inform students that you will play a number of audio files for them. Their job will be to take notes on the message and identify the speaker’s beliefs in regard to the Dred Scott decision. The teacher can pass out a worksheet with the following questions for students to answer as they listen.
  4. Play the audio file “Frederick Douglass I”. How does Douglass respond? Who does he identity as responsible for the institution of slavery?
  5. Play the audio file “Stephen Douglas I”. How does Douglas view Chief Justice Taney and the Supreme Court?
  6. Play the audio file “Lucy Stone II”. What does Stone encourage people to do? What does Stone mean when she refers to ’76? What revolution is she referring to?
  7. Play the audio file “Charlston Mercury”. How does the Charlston Mercury understand the Dred Scott decision? What does the paper think of the federal government?
  8. Pass out a packet of five editorials from American newspapers (available at the Secession Era Editorials Project webpage). Make sure to select a diverse group of editorials from the North and South, both Republican and Democrat. Have students identify responses in these editorials.


Student understanding of the various voices responding to the Dred Scott decision may be assessed in a number of ways.

  • Have students create a chart labeled pro-slavery and anti-slavery voices. They must correctly identify the source and the message.
  • Students can pick either the pro-slavery or anti-slavery side and write an editorial in which they respond to the Dred Scott case.