Dred Scott Decision

the 1850’s in the United States, the Southern proslavery grounds and the
Northern opposition towards it drastically clashed before over the case of Dred
Scott, a slave from Missouri who declared freedom for seven years being in a free
state and free territory.[1] John
Emerson, Dred’s former owner, took him to Illinois and Minnesota for years
before returning home to Missouri. After Emerson died, he was taken up by a new
owner, John Sanford. After being Sanford’s property, Dred sued Emerson and
Sanford for his freedom, claiming that his stay in territory north of 36°30’ made him a free man.[2] With
the proslavery Supreme Court involved in this case, they claimed Dred could not
sue them due to him being a slave and that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.[3] After
a fierce and bloody Civil War, this case rose the questioning of slavery in
America with its dysfunctional territories. However, with the decision made in
1857, Dred has been in trial regarding his freedom ten years before this. The
Dred Scott Supreme Court Case has its significance, impact, and value, which
are all very crucial being the main topic of slavery.

Scott was a slave born in Southampton, Virginia, around the 1800s. His works
included farmhand, laborer, craftsmanship, and general handyman. He had
numerous masters, living throughout new territories as a slave from the South.
His owner, Peter Blow, removed to Alabama and soon moved to Missouri, bringing
his slaves with him. Two years later after he died, Scott was sold to an army
surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, for $500, who then took him to the free states,
Illinois and Massachusetts, to do some duty work, and then back to Missouri.[4] Scott
then filed suit in Missouri state courts for his freedom on the grounds that
residence in a free territory that liberated him.

            Dred Scott’s actual first trial for his freedom was held
in 1847, ten years before the Supreme Court decision was made.[5] The
evidence for the trial was not clear evidence, as it was based on opinions and
not debatable facts, making Scott lose his trial. He trailed again in 1850, successfully
granted freedom for him and his family because of the jury hearing his
evidence. As the Emerson’s owned Scott at the time, Mrs. Emerson stated that
slaves were “valuable property,”[6] and
she did not want to let her property slip away from her hands. She reversed the
ruling that occurred in the first trial located at the Old Courthouse, which
occurred in 1852, stating that times have differed from before to now. As
slavery was becoming a diverse discussion worldwide, the court had their
political reasons to return Scott to slavery, being because of northern
hostility to slavery and Missouri not accepting the law of free states, but
that was not stopping Scott from his search for freedom.

            With the help of half the new jury team being against
slavery, Scott then filed suit in 1854 against John F.A Sanford, Emerson’s
brother and the executer of the Emerson estate, under Article III of
the Constitution, which allowed a citizen from one state to sue a citizen from
another state in federal court.[7] Being
that Sanford was resigned in New York, the court moved the case to federal
court because of the residences’ diversity. Scott was a citizen from Missouri
and John was a citizen from New York; Scott argued that he could sue John
because of this matter. However, John repelled against Scott suing him, stating
that Scott was not a citizen of Missouri due to him being African American and
being brought into this country and sold as a slaves. John argued that blacks
could never be citizens, let alone in the United States.

            Judge Robert W. Wells of the United States District Court
has rejected said argument, concluding that IF Scott were free, he could sue in
federal court as a citizen of Missouri. After the evidence was heard, however,
Wells has opposed Scott’s claim of yearning for freedom, biasing his charge to
jury on the early decision in Missouri with Scott still being a slave.

            Scott has now taken his case to the Supreme Court in
1857. The Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional,
saying that it deprived the southerners of their property in slaves without due
process of law or compensation, which was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.[8]
However, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered majority of his opinion the
Supreme Court in regard to this case. Taney determined that slavery has its
special constitutional protection due to its restricted needs of the property
and its owners. He ruled that Scott was not a citizen of the United States due
to being a slave; he had no right to sue in the federal court on any matter.
Additionally, due to slaves being personal property of their owners, Scott was
not declared as free in the beginning. Therefore, the Missouri Compromise was
unconstitutional, and the federal government had no right to ban slavery in new
territories. With Taney’s claim, the northerners remain shocked, for they have
seen the Missouri Compromise as the center of legislation for the organization
of settlement in the West.


As explained earlier,
Taney denied that blacks could ever be citizens of the United States,
specifically saying:

The question is simply
this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as
slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence
by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all
the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to
the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the
United States in the cases specified in the Constitution.[9]


Douglas, an ex-slave and an abolitionist, expressed optimism from Taney’s statement:

The Supreme Court…
[was] not the only power in the world. We, the abolitionists and colored
people, should meet this decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, in
a cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an
enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to
the complete overthrow of the whole slave system.[10]


court case attracted national attention, having a widespread of slavery
questions, which the Congress could not resolve. The series of slavery
questions should be dealt with the courts. In President’s Buchanan’s inaugural
address on March 4, 1857, he hoped that the Congress would make a decision in
the Scott case that people could live and deal with.[11]
March 6, two days later, the decision has been made. With seven judges to two
out of nine, the Court ruled against Scott. Chief Justice Taney, who was a
southerner, had majority of the opinion, while each judges handed down their
own decisions. According to Taney, Scott could not sue Sanford because he was
not a United States citizen, due to him being a slave and a black man.

Supreme Court decision made electrified the country. The Court, along with
stating the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that blacks were not
citizens of the United States, also redefined the relationships between the
states and the federal government, making slavery possible to expand into the
territories. The South had a clear victory, but the North viewed it with alarm,
making them cautious. Abolitionists, having the highest court in the land
supporting slavery, felt that there was minimal hope that anything short of
political or social revolution would bring slavery to an end.

Lincoln attacked the decision throughout debates with Stephen A. Douglas in
1858 and again during the presidential election in 1860.[12] The
decision made forced the Republicans to take a stand in favor of black
citizenship and fundamental rights for blacks. Going a bit further, some
Republicans argued for black equality and suffrage.

Dred Scott case decision was significant in many ways, and for one, bringing
attention to the tension revolving around slavery in the United States. The
case in itself brought up slavery as a topic to discuss which included the
various sayings in the North and the South. It struck villainous blows on what
the Missouri Compromise was, and it brought victory to the South, being
pro-slavery and all. However, it was a major loss for the abolitionists, having
Dred lose the case as being a slave and not getting the freedom as he wanted. The
decision was also made over prejudice; assumedly the perceived prejudice to
which southerners felt abolitionists subjected them.

Scott case was a landmark decision, having it brought to the Supreme Court and
being a highly discussed issue. It portrayed what the court really did have to
say about slavery, which not only affect the slaves, but the owners and the property
that they own. The issue has then further inflamed the passions surrounding a
topic that’s already alienating within American politics. While the Southerners
were ecstatic about the outcome of the decision, the abolitionist campaign to
aid Scott led numerous Southerners to claim that abolitionists were
anti-southern and enemies of a greater Union. Southern slave owners and
supporters of slavery saw the Scott case as critical precedent, giving them a
sense of legal standing for them to say that the supreme law not only held up
the idea of slavery, but also the Missouri Compromise being unconstitutional.
This act aimed to decrease the spreading of slavery in new territories of the
west and maintain racial balance of power between the North and the South.

their culture, slaves have had more than a century before being regarded as
beings of an inferior order, altogether unfit to even be in political or social
relations with a white man. They had no rights in which the white man had to
respect, having the black person lawfully be reduced to slavery for their own
benefits. Dred was bought and sold, treated as merchandise whenever a profit
could be made by him. This was regarded as an axiom in morals and politics,
which no one thought of disputing or opened in dispute. The men in everyday
society involving their positions acted usually in their private pursuits, and
in public manners, not doubting the correct ability of this opinion.[13]

for the Missouri Compromise occurring in 1820, Missouri was admitted a slave
state while Maine was a free state, having the law prohibit slavery north of
the Louisiana Territory by a 36°30’
latitude line.[14]
This compromise opened a new territory of Arkansas to slavery excepting the
institution from the remains of the Louisiana Purchase. Thirty years
afterwards, slavery expansion in the West was a very disputable issue.

Missouri Compromise then invalidated the Kansas-Nebraska Act and territorial
legislatures gained the power to choose whether to enter the Union as free or
slave through “popular sovereignty” or to let the people decide.[15] A
bill was then drafted, dividing Nebraska in two and creating a new territory
for Kansas, assuming that Kansas would be open to slavery. The Northerners were
outraged; pro and anti-slavery forces broke out in violence and intimidation.
Pro-slavery Missourians and anti-slavery Northerners clashed into battle
several times, being known as “Bleeding Kansas.”[16]
Instead of a lasting compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the nation,
leading up to the Civil War.

the Civil War being a big break out between the North and the South regarding
territories, laws, and mostly slavery, the Dred Scott decision was very vital
on where the Supreme Court stands. With the end of their decision, slavery has
become a big issue which eventually led up to the Civil War. If this case was
dismissed and not taken to the Supreme Court, history would absolutely be
re-written. The Missouri Compromise has taken place, then going to the
Kansas-Nebraska Act (North and South fighting), and without the Scott case
commencing, what would have happened? The Scott case has been brought up since
1847 when he first wanted to sue. It was then ten years later, with Scott being
very persistent with his determination for freedom, that finally his case has
gotten attention by the Supreme Court. As high as it was a problem, this case
has awakened slavery being a very toxic and debatable issue within the United States,
bringing up the Civil War four years later.

Lisa Cozzens, “A Hard Shove for a “Nation on the Brink“: The Impact of Dred
Scott,” Dred Scott: Introduction, (October

Earle, “Dred Scott Decision: Part III: Toward Freedom,” in The Routledge Atlas of African American
History, ed. Mark C. Carnes [New York, NY: Routledge, 2000] 59.

Refer to footnote 1.

Paul Finkelman, “Dred Scott,” in Milestone
Documents in African American History: Exploring the Essential Primary Sources,
ed. Paul Finkelman [Dallas, TX: Schlager Group Inc., 2010] 652.

“Jefferson National Expansion Memorial : Dred Scott Case Trials,” National Park Service

Refer to footnote 5.

Paul Finkelman and Melvin I. Urofsky, “Dred Scott v. Sandford,” in Landmark Decisions of the United States
Supreme Court, [CQ Press: 2007] 86.

Refer to footnote 7.

Refer to footnote 7.

Refer to footnote 2.

Paul Finkelman, Milestone Documents in
African American History: Exploring the Essential Primary Sources, 653.

Paul Finkelman and Melvin I. Urofsky, in
Landmark Decisions of the United States Supreme Court, 87.

Kai Wright, “A House Divided: Emancipation and the Civil War: Dred Scott v.
Sanford,” The African-American
Experience, ed. Kai Wright [New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal
Publishers Inc.,2001-2009] 268.

Jonathan Earle, The Routledge Atlas of
African American History,] 55.

Earle, 56-58.

Earle, 58.

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