Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Clifford Brown




politics, federalism, slavery, ideology, antebellum


The concept of federalism serves as the foundation for the American political system. The framers laid a foundation for balancing state and national tensions; and during the antebellum era American political actors wrestled with the proper application of these concepts. This paper traces the evolution of federalist principles beginning at the founding and culminating with the commonly misperceived Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania by analyzing transformative historical moments and political regimes. Prigg v. Pennsylvania currently exists within contemporary political and constitutional scholarly literature as a slavery case decided upon moralistic bias and the Court’s commitment to the institution of slavery. Closer analysis unveils the decision in Prigg’s connection with the evolution of federalist principles throughout early American history. This paper attempts to uncover how institutional relationships shape governing political principles and how a variety of political actors, specifically the Supreme Court, are influenced by these relationships. The antebellum political order struggled with stabilizing sectional ideological divides and attempted to mitigate these issues by championing doctrines of political compromise. Through this paradigm, Prigg v. Pennsylvania’s conventional status in constitutional literature can be shifted, and instead can be used as an analytical lens for understanding the antebellum political order.