Dred Scott v. Sandford

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A photograph of Dred Scott, taken around the time of his court case in 1857

Dred Scott v. Sanford 60 U.S. 393 (1857) was a United States Supreme Court landmark decision.[1] In March 1857 the court ruled that negroes descended from slaves, whether now free or slave, were not citizens of the United States.[2] Because they were not citizens they could not sue in a Federal court.[2] Dred Scott had sued in federal court. He claimed he was free because he had lived in free territory.[a] He lost his case in a ruling that has been condemned by many as the Supreme Court's worst decision.[5]

The Dred Scott case of the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied Scott his freedom by ruling that negro-slave descendants were not U.S. citizens, was the end of years of legal cases during 1846-1857, in lower federal district court and Missouri courts which had granted Dred Scott freedom for about 2 years, until overturned upon appeal.

Facts of the case[change | change source]

Dr. John Emerson was a surgeon serving in the U.S. Army.[6] In 1833 he purchased Dred Scott, a slave in Missouri.[7] The same year he moved to Illinois taking Scott with him.[7] Emerson was sent to a fort in the Wisconsin Territory.[b][9] Scott, his slave, went with him. While living in the Wisconsin territory (now Minnesota) Scott met and married Harriet Robinson.[9] She was owned by a justice of the peace. After marrying Scott, Emerson became her owner as well.[9] Emerson returned to Missouri taking his slaves with him.[10] In 1843 Emerson died in Missouri. Scott and his family were left to Emerson's wife, Eliza Sandford.[9]

The lawsuit[change | change source]

Judgment in the U.S. Supreme Court Case Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford

In 1846 Scott sued for his freedom in court.[10] Helped by Abolitionist lawyers, he claimed that he was free because he had lived in free states for a long time.[10] The defense claimed that Dr. Emerson was forced to move to the Wisconsin territory because he served with the United States Army. He should be able to keep his property. The presiding judge, Roger B. Taney,[c] decided that Scott was not free and he did not have a right to sue.[12] Furthermore, he stated that Congress could not make laws prohibiting slavery in United States territories.[d][12] This was the majority opinion with seven out of nine Justices agreeing.[12]

The opinion of the dissenting justices was that, at the time the Constitution was ratified, African Americans were already considered citizens in several states.[10]

Aftermath[change | change source]

The ruling was a major setback to the anti-slavery movement.[12] The Republicans condemned the ruling. In effect, it allowed slavery in the northern states.[12] It became a central issue in slavery debates in the US. In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment overturned the Dred Scott decision.[9] It gave all persons born or naturalized in the United States citizenship regardless of their color.[14]

Soon after the court decision of 1857 Eliza Sandford sold Scott and his family to Taylor Blow.[14] Blow (one of Scott's previous owners) then granted Scott and his family their freedom.[14] Scott died a free man on September 17, 1858. He did not live long enough to see African Americans become United States citizens.[14]

Supreme Court decisions overturned by Constitutional Amendments[change | change source]

Dred Scott is one of only four decisions by the Supreme Court that were overturned by an amendment to the United States Constitution.[15] The other three are:

Arguably, one more case could be added:[15]

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Based on the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Illinois was a free state where slavery was not allowed.[3] The Missouri Compromise also stated that Slavery was not allowed in all states which were part of the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern boundary of Missouri.[4]
  2. Emerson was the post surgeon at Fort Snelling in what is now Minnesota.[8]
  3. Taney was a strong supporter of slavery.[9] Seven out of nine justices were appointed by presidents from the south who were proslavery.[9] in 1863 seven of the nine justices owned slaves.[11]
  4. The decision made the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional.[13] But the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had been repealed by the Kansas–Nebraska Act. The act gave states the right to vote on the issue of slavery.[13]

References[change | change source]

  1. "Focus on Dred Scott v. Sandford". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "32a. The Dred Scott Decision". Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  3. "The Missouri Compromise". Social Studies for Kids. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  4. "23c. The Missouri Compromise". Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  5. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. Volume 1, ed. Junius P. Rodriguez (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007), p. 265
  6. "Landmark Cases, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD". The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  8. "Dred Scott's Quarters". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 "Dred Scott's fight for freedom, 1846 - 1857". WGBH/PBS Online. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "The Dred Scott Decision". The History Place. 1996. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  11. "How many US Supreme Court justices owned slaves?". Answers.com. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "The Dred Scott Decision". Teach US History. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Missouri Compromise". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 "The Dred Scott Case - Summary". Missouri Historical Society. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Lawrence K. Furbish (25 September 1996). "OLR Research Report". The Connecticut General Assembly. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 "Women's Fight for the Vote: The Nineteenth Amendment". Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 

Other websites[change | change source]