Dred Scott Decision

Duringthe 1850’s in the United States, the Southern proslavery grounds and theNorthern opposition towards it drastically clashed before over the case of DredScott, a slave from Missouri who declared freedom for seven years being in a freestate and free territory.[1] JohnEmerson, Dred’s former owner, took him to Illinois and Minnesota for yearsbefore returning home to Missouri.

After Emerson died, he was taken up by a newowner, John Sanford. After being Sanford’s property, Dred sued Emerson andSanford for his freedom, claiming that his stay in territory north of 36°30’ made him a free man.[2] Withthe proslavery Supreme Court involved in this case, they claimed Dred could notsue them due to him being a slave and that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

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[3] Aftera fierce and bloody Civil War, this case rose the questioning of slavery inAmerica with its dysfunctional territories. However, with the decision made in1857, Dred has been in trial regarding his freedom ten years before this. TheDred Scott Supreme Court Case has its significance, impact, and value, whichare all very crucial being the main topic of slavery. DredScott was a slave born in Southampton, Virginia, around the 1800s. His worksincluded farmhand, laborer, craftsmanship, and general handyman. He hadnumerous masters, living throughout new territories as a slave from the South.His owner, Peter Blow, removed to Alabama and soon moved to Missouri, bringinghis slaves with him. Two years later after he died, Scott was sold to an armysurgeon, 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] Scottthen filed suit in Missouri state courts for his freedom on the grounds thatresidence in a free territory that liberated him.            Dred Scott’s actual first trial for his freedom was heldin 1847, ten years before the Supreme Court decision was made.[5] Theevidence for the trial was not clear evidence, as it was based on opinions andnot debatable facts, making Scott lose his trial. He trailed again in 1850, successfullygranted freedom for him and his family because of the jury hearing hisevidence.

As the Emerson’s owned Scott at the time, Mrs. Emerson stated thatslaves were “valuable property,”[6] andshe did not want to let her property slip away from her hands. She reversed theruling that occurred in the first trial located at the Old Courthouse, whichoccurred in 1852, stating that times have differed from before to now.

Asslavery was becoming a diverse discussion worldwide, the court had theirpolitical reasons to return Scott to slavery, being because of northernhostility to slavery and Missouri not accepting the law of free states, butthat was not stopping Scott from his search for freedom.            With the help of half the new jury team being againstslavery, Scott then filed suit in 1854 against John F.A Sanford, Emerson’sbrother and the executer of the Emerson estate, under Article III ofthe Constitution, which allowed a citizen from one state to sue a citizen fromanother state in federal court.

[7] Beingthat Sanford was resigned in New York, the court moved the case to federalcourt because of the residences’ diversity. Scott was a citizen from Missouriand John was a citizen from New York; Scott argued that he could sue Johnbecause of this matter. However, John repelled against Scott suing him, statingthat Scott was not a citizen of Missouri due to him being African American andbeing brought into this country and sold as a slaves. John argued that blackscould never be citizens, let alone in the United States.             Judge Robert W. Wells of the United States District Courthas rejected said argument, concluding that IF Scott were free, he could sue infederal 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 tojury on the early decision in Missouri with Scott still being a slave.

            Scott has now taken his case to the Supreme Court in1857. The Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional,saying that it deprived the southerners of their property in slaves without dueprocess of law or compensation, which was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.[8]However, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered majority of his opinion theSupreme Court in regard to this case. Taney determined that slavery has itsspecial constitutional protection due to its restricted needs of the propertyand its owners.

He ruled that Scott was not a citizen of the United States dueto 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 wasnot declared as free in the beginning. Therefore, the Missouri Compromise wasunconstitutional, and the federal government had no right to ban slavery in newterritories. With Taney’s claim, the northerners remain shocked, for they haveseen the Missouri Compromise as the center of legislation for the organizationof settlement in the West.

            As explained earlier,Taney denied that blacks could ever be citizens of the United States,specifically saying:The question is simplythis: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold asslaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existenceby the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to allthe rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument tothe citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of theUnited States in the cases specified in the Constitution.[9] FredrickDouglas, 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 coloredpeople, should meet this decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, ina cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of anenslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory tothe complete overthrow of the whole slave system.

[10] Thecourt case attracted national attention, having a widespread of slaveryquestions, which the Congress could not resolve. The series of slaveryquestions should be dealt with the courts. In President’s Buchanan’s inauguraladdress on March 4, 1857, he hoped that the Congress would make a decision inthe Scott case that people could live and deal with.[11]March 6, two days later, the decision has been made. With seven judges to twoout of nine, the Court ruled against Scott.

Chief Justice Taney, who was asoutherner, had majority of the opinion, while each judges handed down theirown decisions. According to Taney, Scott could not sue Sanford because he wasnot a United States citizen, due to him being a slave and a black man. TheSupreme Court decision made electrified the country.

The Court, along withstating the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that blacks were notcitizens of the United States, also redefined the relationships between thestates and the federal government, making slavery possible to expand into theterritories. The South had a clear victory, but the North viewed it with alarm,making them cautious. Abolitionists, having the highest court in the landsupporting slavery, felt that there was minimal hope that anything short ofpolitical or social revolution would bring slavery to an end. AbrahamLincoln attacked the decision throughout debates with Stephen A. Douglas in1858 and again during the presidential election in 1860.[12] Thedecision made forced the Republicans to take a stand in favor of blackcitizenship and fundamental rights for blacks.

Going a bit further, someRepublicans argued for black equality and suffrage. TheDred Scott case decision was significant in many ways, and for one, bringingattention to the tension revolving around slavery in the United States. Thecase in itself brought up slavery as a topic to discuss which included thevarious sayings in the North and the South. It struck villainous blows on whatthe Missouri Compromise was, and it brought victory to the South, beingpro-slavery and all. However, it was a major loss for the abolitionists, havingDred lose the case as being a slave and not getting the freedom as he wanted.

Thedecision was also made over prejudice; assumedly the perceived prejudice towhich southerners felt abolitionists subjected them. TheScott case was a landmark decision, having it brought to the Supreme Court andbeing a highly discussed issue. It portrayed what the court really did have tosay about slavery, which not only affect the slaves, but the owners and the propertythat they own. The issue has then further inflamed the passions surrounding atopic that’s already alienating within American politics. While the Southernerswere ecstatic about the outcome of the decision, the abolitionist campaign toaid Scott led numerous Southerners to claim that abolitionists wereanti-southern and enemies of a greater Union.

Southern slave owners andsupporters of slavery saw the Scott case as critical precedent, giving them asense of legal standing for them to say that the supreme law not only held upthe idea of slavery, but also the Missouri Compromise being unconstitutional.This act aimed to decrease the spreading of slavery in new territories of thewest and maintain racial balance of power between the North and the South.Regardingtheir culture, slaves have had more than a century before being regarded asbeings of an inferior order, altogether unfit to even be in political or socialrelations with a white man.

They had no rights in which the white man had torespect, having the black person lawfully be reduced to slavery for their ownbenefits. Dred was bought and sold, treated as merchandise whenever a profitcould 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 everydaysociety involving their positions acted usually in their private pursuits, andin public manners, not doubting the correct ability of this opinion.[13] Asfor the Missouri Compromise occurring in 1820, Missouri was admitted a slavestate while Maine was a free state, having the law prohibit slavery north ofthe Louisiana Territory by a 36°30’latitude line.[14]This compromise opened a new territory of Arkansas to slavery excepting theinstitution from the remains of the Louisiana Purchase. Thirty yearsafterwards, slavery expansion in the West was a very disputable issue. TheMissouri Compromise then invalidated the Kansas-Nebraska Act and territoriallegislatures gained the power to choose whether to enter the Union as free orslave through “popular sovereignty” or to let the people decide.

[15] Abill was then drafted, dividing Nebraska in two and creating a new territoryfor Kansas, assuming that Kansas would be open to slavery. The Northerners wereoutraged; pro and anti-slavery forces broke out in violence and intimidation.Pro-slavery Missourians and anti-slavery Northerners clashed into battleseveral 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.Havingthe Civil War being a big break out between the North and the South regardingterritories, laws, and mostly slavery, the Dred Scott decision was very vitalon where the Supreme Court stands. With the end of their decision, slavery hasbecome a big issue which eventually led up to the Civil War. If this case wasdismissed and not taken to the Supreme Court, history would absolutely bere-written. The Missouri Compromise has taken place, then going to theKansas-Nebraska Act (North and South fighting), and without the Scott casecommencing, what would have happened? The Scott case has been brought up since1847 when he first wanted to sue.

It was then ten years later, with Scott beingvery persistent with his determination for freedom, that finally his case hasgotten attention by the Supreme Court. As high as it was a problem, this casehas awakened slavery being a very toxic and debatable issue within the United States,bringing up the Civil War four years later.[1]Lisa Cozzens, “A Hard Shove for a “Nation on the Brink“: The Impact of DredScott,” Dred Scott: Introduction, (October1999)[2]JonathanEarle, “Dred Scott Decision: Part III: Toward Freedom,” in The Routledge Atlas of African AmericanHistory, ed. Mark C.

Carnes [New York, NY: Routledge, 2000] 59.[3]Refer to footnote 1.[4]Paul Finkelman, “Dred Scott,” in MilestoneDocuments in African American History: Exploring the Essential Primary Sources,ed.

Paul Finkelman [Dallas, TX: Schlager Group Inc., 2010] 652. [5]“Jefferson National Expansion Memorial : Dred Scott Case Trials,” National Park Service[6]Refer to footnote 5.

[7]Paul Finkelman and Melvin I. Urofsky, “Dred Scott v. Sandford,” in Landmark Decisions of the United StatesSupreme Court, [CQ Press: 2007] 86. [8]Refer to footnote 7.[9]Refer to footnote 7.

[10]Refer to footnote 2. [11]Paul Finkelman, Milestone Documents inAfrican American History: Exploring the Essential Primary Sources, 653.[12]Paul Finkelman and Melvin I. Urofsky, inLandmark Decisions of the United States Supreme Court, 87.[13]Kai Wright, “A House Divided: Emancipation and the Civil War: Dred Scott v.Sanford,” The African-AmericanExperience, ed.

Kai Wright [New York, NY: Black Dog & LeventhalPublishers Inc.,2001-2009] 268.[14]Jonathan Earle, The Routledge Atlas ofAfrican American History,] 55.[15]Earle, 56-58.[16]Earle, 58.


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