A Historian’s Perspective on Gingrich & Lincoln





Newt Gingrich wrongly claimed the Dred Scott decision “ruled that slavery extended to the whole country.” It did not. The ruling stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in new territories, but it stopped short of applying the ruling to all states. Gingrich also claimed that President Lincoln “explicitly instructed his administration to not enforce Dred Scott.” But the research historian at the Lincoln presidential library knows of no such directive or any reason to issue one.

In arguing for the need to curb the power of the judiciary, Gingrich frequently cites Lincoln’s well documented opposition to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling. Gingrich did so twice Dec. 18 on “Face the Nation.” The former House speaker, who earned a Ph.D. in history and taught the subject briefly, often says he is speaking “as a historian.” We asked Bryon Andreasen, the research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., to review Gingrich’s comments about Lincoln on “Face the Nation” for historical accuracy.

Gingrich, Dec. 18: Lincoln spends part of his first inaugural because people tend to forget, the Supreme Court in Dred Scott, ruled that slavery extended to the whole country. And Lincoln said very specifically, that’s the law of the case that is not the law of the land. Nine people cannot create the law of the land or you have eliminated our freedom as a people.

Andreasen made three points about Gingrich’s comments. We’ll provide Andreasen’s detailed analysis later, but first we will summarize his main points:

  • The Dred Scott decision did not extend slavery “to the whole country,” as Gingrich claimed.
  • Gingrich’s statement that “Lincoln said very specifically, that’s the law of the case that is not the law of the land” — is, in Andreasen’s words, “historically defensible.”
  • It is “essentially accurate,” Andreasen said, for Gingrich to paraphrase Lincoln’s belief that “nine people cannot create the law of the land or you have eliminated our freedom as a people.”...


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