Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Legal Studies

Reader 1

Mark Golub

Reader 2

Rita Roberts

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Rights Information

© 2014 Megan A. Petersen


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.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.