Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Legal Studies

Reader 1

Mark Golub

Reader 2

Rita Roberts

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2014 Megan A. Petersen

Abstract

This article traces different forms of the same present throughout several eras in American political and social history. I focus on two texts, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, and Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, in order to examine slavery as a legal institution in the United States, and, in particular, the constitutionality of slavery. Rather than a massive contradiction, the Dred Scott decision is just another iteration of American political and racial philosophy as it was 100, even 200 years earlier. Taney’s opinion is a reflection of what the Lockean social contract came to look like in a racially hierarchized, colonial society. The Dred Scott decision paints one of the most accurate pictures of American political thought but is always written off as nothing but bad law. A close examination of race and social contract theory as they influenced the American Constitution gives insight into more productive ways to talk about race today.

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