Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott v. Sandford

Overview
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 and could never be U.S. citizens.Despite the fact that the decision is no longer "jurisprudentially important," it nevertheless had, and continues to have, lasting cultural and historical ramification/implications .

The Opinion of the Court, written by Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

, was, and remains, extremely controversial: legal scholars of diametrically opposed jurisprudence do not debate whether or not the decision was wrong, but rather why it is wrong.
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Encyclopedia
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 and could never be U.S. citizens.Despite the fact that the decision is no longer "jurisprudentially important," it nevertheless had, and continues to have, lasting cultural and historical ramification/implications .

The Opinion of the Court, written by Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

, was, and remains, extremely controversial: legal scholars of diametrically opposed jurisprudence do not debate whether or not the decision was wrong, but rather why it is wrong. The decision was 7–2, and every Justice besides Taney wrote a separate concurrence or dissent. For the first time since Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

, the Court held an Act of Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to be unconstitutional. The decision began by first concluding that the Court lacked jurisdiction in the matter because Dred Scott
Dred Scott
Dred Scott , was an African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v...

 had no standing to sue in Court, as Scott, and all people of African descent for that matter, were found to not be citizens of the United States. This decision was contrary to the practice of numerous states at the time, particularly Free states, where freed slaves did in fact enjoy the rights of citizens, such as the right to vote and hold public office . The decision of the court is often criticized as being obiter dictum
Obiter dictum
Obiter dictum is Latin for a statement "said in passing". An obiter dictum is a remark or observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the court's opinion, does not form a necessary part of the court's decision...

 because the Court went on to conclude that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue
Standing (law)
In law, standing or locus standi is the term for the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case...

 in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattel
Personal property
Personal property, roughly speaking, is private property that is moveable, as opposed to real property or real estate. In the common law systems personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In the civil law systems personal property is often called movable property or movables - any...

s or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process.

In reaching this decision, Taney had hoped to settle the issue of slavery in the United States with the Court's decision, but it had the opposite effect. The decision was fiercely debated across the country, as perhaps best exemplified by the Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, the second-ever Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 nominee for President, was able to win the presidential election in 1860
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...

; the stopping of the further expansion of slavery was a key Republican party plank. The court’s decision was so contentious that some go as far as to suggest that the Dred Scott decision caused the Civil War. Although such an assertion is rejected by most legal and historical scholars, it is nevertheless acknowledged that the decision did play an important role in the timing of state secession and the Civil War. The decision is also acknowledged for the influential role it played in altering the national political landscape: the decision is credited with launching Abraham Lincoln’s national political career and ultimately allowing for his election .

Although the Supreme Court has never explicitly overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 in 1868, which created citizenship at the national as opposed to the state level:.

The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns the Dred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.


The reasoning used in the "Slaughter-House Cases" is extremely sound considering the fact that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were written with the intention of overturning the Dred Scott decision.

Background




Dred Scott
Dred Scott
Dred Scott , was an African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v...

 was born a slave in Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 between 1795 and 1800. In 1820, he followed his owners--Peter Blow--to Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

. In 1832, Blow died and the next year U.S. Army Surgeon Dr. John Emerson purchased Scott. After purchasing Scott, Emerson took him to Fort Armstrong
Fort Armstrong
Fort Armstrong , was one of a chain of western frontier defenses which the United States erected after the War of 1812. It was located at the foot of Rock Island, Illinois, in the Mississippi River between present-day Illinois and Iowa. It was five miles from the principal Sac and Fox village on...

, which was located in Illinois. Illinois, a free state, had been free as a territory under the Northwest Ordinance
Northwest Ordinance
The Northwest Ordinance was an act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States, passed July 13, 1787...

 of 1787, and had prohibited slavery in its constitution in 1819 when it was admitted as a state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

. Scott remained there until 1836.

In 1836, Scott was again relocated. This time he was taken to Fort Snelling, which was located in part of the Wisconsin territory
Wisconsin Territory
The Territory of Wisconsin was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 3, 1836, until May 29, 1848, when an eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Wisconsin...

. As a result, Scott was once again taken to a territory where slavery was “forever prohibited” by United State Congress under the Missouri Compromise
Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30'...

 . Moreover, two weeks before entering the Wisconsin territory, Congress passed the Wisconsin Enabling Act, effectively making slavery illegal in the Wisconsin territory under three distinct statues. First of all, the act mandated that the laws of Michigan, which was a free state, govern the new territory. Secondly, the Enabling Act made the Northwest Ordinance applicable in the territory, which also prohibited slavery. On top of all of this, the Wisconsin Enabling act reaffirmed and supplemented the Missouri Compromise. Thus, by taking Scott to this territory and keeping him there for two and a half years, Emerson was breaking the law in three distinct ways. This provided Scott with a legitimate basis on which to claim his freedom in court, although Scott did not act on this opportunity.

During his stay at Fort Snelling, Scott was legally married to Harriet Robinson, with the knowledge and consent of Emerson . This potentially provided Scott with an additional basis for claiming his freedom because under the laws of most southern states, a slave could never be legally married. This was so for three reasons. First, slaves could not enter legally binding contracts and marriage is a contract. Secondly, the legal recognition of marriage would undermine the property interest of the slaveholder. Finally, recognition of slave marriages could prompt slaves to demand and claim other rights, such as the right and duty to protect one’s wife from assault by others (including the slave owner). But once again, Scott made no attempt at his freedom.

In 1837, the Army ordered Emerson to Jefferson Barracks Military Post, south of St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

. Emerson left Scott and Scott's wife Harriet at Fort Snelling, where Emerson rented them out for profit. By hiring Scott out in a free state, Emerson was effectively bringing the institution of slavery into a free state, which was a direct violation of the Missouri Compromise, the Northwest Ordinance, and the Wisconsin Enabling Act .

Before the end of the year, the Army reassigned Emerson to Fort Jessup, Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

. There Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford in February 1838. Emerson then sent for Scott and Harriet, who proceeded to Louisiana to serve their master and his wife. While en route to Louisiana, Scott's daughter Eliza was born on a steamboat
Steamboat
A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels...

 underway along the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 between the Iowa Territory
Iowa Territory
The Territory of Iowa was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 4, 1838, until December 28, 1846, when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Iowa.-History:...

 and Illinois. Because Eliza was born in free territory, she was technically born as a free person under both federal and state laws . Moreover, upon entering Louisiana, the Scotts could have once again sued for their freedom, but did not. In all likelihood, the Scotts would have been granted their freedom by a Louisiana court, as Louisiana courts had previously granted slaves their freedom so long as it was shown that had lived in a free state for a time . This was Louisiana state precedent for over 20 years.

Of course, it makes sense that the Scotts would not pursue their freedom in Louisiana: there is no reason to believe that they would be aware of this Louisiana state precedent. But it is curious that the Scotts made the trip to Louisiana at all: they made the trip down the Mississippi unsupervised and along the way they passed various free towns. The Scotts could have easily gotten off of the ship and taken their freedom. Once again though, they did not.
Toward the end of 1838, the Army again assigned Emerson to Fort Snelling. By 1840, Emerson's wife, Scott, and Harriet returned to St. Louis while Emerson served in the Seminole War. While in St. Louis, they were once again hired out and Emerson was once again breaking federal law. In 1842, Emerson left the Army. He died in the Iowa Territory in 1843; his widow Eliza inherited his estate, including Scott. For three years after Emerson’s death, the Scotts continued to work as hired slaves. In 1846, Dred attempted to purchase his and his family’s freedom, but Eliza Irene Emerson refused, prompting Dred to finally resort to legal recourse.

First attempt


After failing to purchase the freedom of his family and himself, and with the help of abolitionist legal advisers, Scott sued Emerson for his freedom in a Missouri court in 1846. Scott received financial assistance for his case from the son of his previous owner, Peter Blow . Scott based his legal argument on precedents such as Somersett v. Stewart
Somersett's Case
R v Knowles, ex parte Somersett 20 State Tr 1 is a famous judgment of the English Court of King's Bench in 1772 which held that slavery was unsupported by law in England and Wales...

, Winny v. Whitesides, and Rachel v. Walker
Rachel V. Walker
Rachel v. Walker was a "freedom suit" filed by Rachel, an African-American slave in the St. Louis Circuit Court. She petitioned for her freedom and that of her son James Henry from William Walker , based on having been held illegally as a slave by a previous master, an Army officer, in the free...

, claiming his presence and residence in free territories required his emancipation. Scott's lawyers argued the same for Scott's wife, and further claimed that Eliza Scott's birth on a steamboat between a free state and a free territory had made her free upon birth. While this suit was awaiting trial, Scott and Harriet had their second daughter, Lizzie.

It was expected that the Scotts would win their freedom with relative ease since Missouri courts had previously heard over 10 other cases in which they had freed slaves that had been taken into free territory . But, in June 1847, Scott's suit was dismissed on a technicality: Scott had failed to provide a witness to testify that Scott was in fact a slave belonging to Eliza Emerson.

Scott v. Emerson


At the end of 1847, the judge granted Scott a new trial. Emerson appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Missouri
Supreme Court of Missouri
The Supreme Court of Missouri is the highest court in the state of Missouri. It was established in 1820, and is located in Jefferson City, Missouri. Missouri voters have approved changes in the state's constitution to give the Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction- the sole legal power to hear -...

, which affirmed the trial court's order in 1848.

Due to a major fire, a cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic, and two continuances, the new trial did not begin until January 1850. While the case awaited trial, Scott and his family were placed in the custody of the St. Louis County
St. Louis County, Missouri
St. Louis County is a county located in the U.S. state of Missouri. Its county seat is Clayton. St. Louis County is part of the St. Louis Metro Area wherein the independent City of St. Louis and its suburbs in St. Louis County, as well as the surrounding counties in both Missouri and Illinois all...

 Sheriff, who had continued to rent out the services of Scott, placing the rents in escrow
Escrow
An escrow is:* an arrangement made under contractual provisions between transacting parties, whereby an independent trusted third party receives and disburses money and/or documents for the transacting parties, with the timing of such disbursement by the third party dependent on the fulfillment of...

. The jury found Scott and his family legally free. Unwilling to accept the loss of four slaves and a substantial escrow account, Emerson appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri, although by that point she had moved to Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 and transferred advocacy of the case to her brother, John F. A. Sanford.

In November 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the jury's decision, effectively overturning 28 years of Missouri state precedent. It held that the Scotts were still legally slaves and that they should have sued for freedom while living in a free state. Chief Justice William Scott declared:

Scott v. Sanford



In 1853, Scott again sued, but now in federal court. The defendant had become John F.A. Sanford, who had become the executor of John Emerson's estate and had been given control over the case in 1850 when his sister, Emerson's widow, moved to Massachusetts. The grounds for taking the case to federal court were that Sanford was a resident of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, having returned there in 1853, and that the federal courts could hear the case under diversity jurisdiction
Diversity jurisdiction
In the law of the United States, diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court has the power to hear a civil case where the persons that are parties are "diverse" in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are...

 provided in Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

At trial in 1854, Judge Robert William Wells
Robert William Wells
Robert William Wells was a United States federal judge.Born in Winchester, Virginia, Wells read law to enter the bar in 1820. He was in private practice in Saint Charles, Missouri, from 1820 to 1821, and was a circuit attorney of the St. Charles Circuit from 1821 to 1822...

 directed the jury to rely on Missouri law to settle the question of Scott's freedom. Since the Missouri Supreme Court had held Scott was a slave, the jury found in favor of Sanford. Scott then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Correspondence with President Buchanan


Historians discovered that after the November Missouri Court ruling, the President-elect James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 wrote to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Catron
John Catron
John Catron was an American jurist who served as a US Supreme Court justice from 1837 to 1865.-Early life:Little is known of Catron's early life, but he served in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson...

, asking whether the case would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court before his inauguration in March 1857. Buchanan hoped the decision would quell unrest in the country over the slavery issue by issuing a ruling that put the future of slavery beyond the realm of political debate.

Buchanan later successfully pressured Associate Justice Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier , was an American jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States.-Early life, education, and career:...

, a Northerner, to join the Southern majority in the Dred Scott decision, to prevent the appearance that the decision was made along sectional lines. By present-day standards, such correspondence would be considered improper ex parte
Ex parte
Ex parte is a Latin legal term meaning "from one party" .An ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present. In Australian, Canadian, U.K., Indian and U.S...

 contact with a court.

Even under the more lenient standards of that century, Buchanan's applying such political pressure to a member of a sitting court would have been seen as improper. Republicans fueled speculation as to Buchanan's influence on the decision by publicizing that Chief Justice Roger Taney had whispered in Buchanan's ear prior to Buchanan declaring, in his inaugural address, that the slavery question would "be speedily and finally settled" by the Supreme Court.

Decision


The Supreme Court ruling was handed down on March 6, 1857, just two days after Buchanan's inauguration. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the Court, with each of the concurring and dissenting Justices filing separate opinions. In total, six Justices agreed with the ruling; Samuel Nelson
Samuel Nelson
Samuel Nelson was an American attorney and an Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States....

 concurred with the ruling but not its reasoning, and Benjamin Robbins Curtis
Benjamin Robbins Curtis
Benjamin Robbins Curtis was an American attorney and United States Supreme Court Justice.Curtis was the first and only Whig justice of the Supreme Court. He was also the first Supreme Court justice to have a formal legal degree and is the only justice to have resigned from the court over a matter...

 and John McLean
John McLean
John McLean was an American jurist and politician who served in the United States Congress, as U.S. Postmaster General, and as a justice on the Ohio and U.S...

 dissented. The court misspelled Sanford's name in the decision.

Opinion of the Court


There were three questions before the Court. Chief Justice Taney first had to decide whether the Court had jurisdiction. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that "the judicial Power shall extend... to Controversies... between Citizens of different States...." The Court held that Scott was not a "citizen of a state" and therefore was unable to bring suit in federal court. Taney spent pages 407-421 of his decision chronicling the history of slave and negro law in the British colonies and American states. His goal was to ascertain whether, at the time the Constitution was ratified, federal law could have recognized Scott (a current slave) as a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. He decided: "the affirmative of these propositions cannot be maintained." According to Taney, the authors of the Constitution
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

 had viewed all blacks as
beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.


The Court also presented a parade of horribles
Parade of horribles
-As a literal parade:"Parade of horribles" originally referred to a literal parade of people wearing comic and grotesque costumes, rather like the Philadelphia Mummers Parade...

 argument, based on the Privileges and Immunities Clause
Privileges and Immunities Clause
The Privileges and Immunities Clause prevents a state from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner...

 of Article IV, listing the inevitable and undesirable effects of granting Mr. Scott's petition:
It would give to persons of the negro race, ...the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, ...to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased ...the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.


If Scott had been a citizen according to Missouri law, then the question of whether the Supreme Court could have jurisdiction would still be an open one, because
no State can, by any act or law of its own, passed since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution of the United States.


Therefore, according to Taney's analysis, nothing in the nation's history or law suggests that Scott's peculiar situation would make him a citizen of the United States, eligible to sue in federal court.

The third, and last, question before the Court was related and likewise evaded by the question of jurisdiction: Did Scott's residency in the free territory of modern-day Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 (then part of the Wisconsin Territory
Wisconsin Territory
The Territory of Wisconsin was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 3, 1836, until May 29, 1848, when an eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Wisconsin...

) make him a free man? Citing a similar case in Strader et al. v. Graham (1850), Taney deferred to the opinion of Scott's current state's court system on the matter:
we are satisfied, upon a careful examination of all the cases decided in the State courts of Missouri referred to, that it is now firmly settled by the decisions of the highest court in the State, that Scott and his family upon their return were not free, but were, by the laws of Missouri, the property of the defendant; and that the Circuit Court of the United States had no jurisdiction, when, by the laws of the State, the plaintiff was a slave, and not a citizen.


On this point, Taney also specifically cited the Supreme Court of Missouri's denial of Dred Scott's freedom. Because the United States Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction on this matter, Taney argued, the decisions of the government of Missouri took precedence. Scott could not be a free man.

Despite the conclusion that the Court lacked jurisdiction, however, it went on to decide the second question of the decision (in what Republicans would label its "obiter dictum
Obiter dictum
Obiter dictum is Latin for a statement "said in passing". An obiter dictum is a remark or observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the court's opinion, does not form a necessary part of the court's decision...

"): the provisions of the Missouri Compromise
Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30'...

 declaring it to be free territory were beyond Congress's power to enact. The Court rested its decision on the grounds that Congress's power to acquire territories and create governments within those territories was limited solely to the Northwest Territories, not Louisiana territory, which was acquired well after the signing of the Constitution.

Parrying the Constitution's Article IV, Section 3 ("The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States"), Taney argued that the clause immediately following protected permanent states — those that eventually arose from temporary territories — from those very Rules and Regulations: "...and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State."

The Court also held that the Fifth Amendment
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. Its guarantees stem from English common law which traces back to the Magna Carta in 1215...

 barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, upon the incidence of migration into free territory.

This was only the second time in United States history that the Supreme Court had found an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. (The first time was 54 years earlier in Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

).

Dissents by Justice Curtis and Justice McLean


Curtis, in dissent, attacked that part of the Court's decision as obiter dicta, on the ground that once the Court determined that it did not have jurisdiction to hear Scott's case, it must simply dismiss the action, and not pass judgment on the merits of the claims. The dissents by Curtis and McLean also attacked the Court's overturning of the Missouri Compromise on its merits, noting both that it was not necessary to decide the question, and also that none of the authors of the Constitution had ever objected on constitutional grounds to the United States Congress' adoption of the antislavery provisions of the Northwest Ordinance
Northwest Ordinance
The Northwest Ordinance was an act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States, passed July 13, 1787...

 passed by the Continental Congress, or the subsequent acts that barred slavery north of 36°30' N.

Nor, these justices argued, was there any Constitutional basis for the claim that blacks could not be citizens. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, black men could vote in five of the thirteen states. This made them citizens not only of their states but of the United States. Therefore, Justice McLean concluded that the argument that Scott was not a citizen was "more a matter of taste than of law."

Consequences


Perhaps the most immediate consequence of the decision was to trigger the Panic of 1857
Panic of 1857
The Panic of 1857 was a financial panic in the United States caused by the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy. Indeed, because of the interconnectedness of the world economy by the time of the 1850s, the financial crisis which began in the autumn of 1857 was...

. Economist Charles Calomiris and historian Larry Schweikart discovered that uncertainty about whether the entire West would suddenly become either slave territory or engulfed in combat like Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858...

 immediately gripped the markets. What was unusual about the initial panic, though, was that it only struck the railroads running east and west—where the impact of the Dred Scott decision would be greatest (the territories). The bonds of east/west railroads collapsed immediately (although north/south-running lines were unaffected), causing, in turn, the near-collapse of several large banks and the runs that ensued. What followed these runs has been called the Panic of 1857, and it differed sharply from the Panic of 1837 in that its effects were almost exclusively confined to the North. Calomiris and Schweikart found this resulted from the South's superior system of branch banking (as opposed to the North's unit banking system), in which the transmission of the panic was minor due to the diversification of the southern branch banking systems. Information moved reliably among the branch banks, whereas in the North, the unit banks (competitors) seldom shared such vital information. In the broader scope, the Panic convinced the South that "Cotton is King
King Cotton
King Cotton was a slogan used by southerners to support secession from the United States by arguing cotton exports would make an independent Confederacy economically prosperous, and—more important—would force Great Britain and France to support the Confederacy because their industrial economy...

" and that it had nothing to fear economically from the North unless a move was made to end the system of slavery.

Prior to Dred Scott, Democratic Party politicians had sought repeal of the Missouri Compromise
Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30'...

, and were finally successful in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

. This act permitted each newly admitted state south of the 40th parallel to decide whether to be a slave state or free state. Now, with Dred Scott, the Supreme Court under Taney sought to permit the unhindered expansion of slavery into the territories.

The Dred Scott decision, then, represented a culmination of what many at that time considered a push to expand slavery. Southerners at the time, who had grown uncomfortable with the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

, argued that they had a right, under the federal constitution, to bring slaves into the territories, regardless of any decision by a territorial legislature on the subject. The Dred Scott decision seemed to endorse that view. The expansion of the territories and resulting admission of new states would mean a loss of political power for the North, as many of the new states would be admitted as slave states, and counting slaves as three-fifths of a person would add to the slave holding states' political representation in Congress.

Although Taney believed that the decision represented a compromise that would settle the slavery question once and for all by transforming a contested political issue into a matter of settled law, it produced the opposite result. It strengthened Northern slavery opposition, divided the Democratic Party on sectional lines, encouraged secessionist elements among Southern supporters of slavery to make bolder demands, and strengthened the Republican Party
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

.

Reaction


Opponents of slavery fiercely attacked the Dred Scott decision. The Evening Journal of Albany, New York
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

, combined two themes and denounced the decision as both an offense to the principles of liberty on which the nation was founded, and a victory for slave states over the free states:
The three hundred and forty-seven thousand five hundred and twenty-five Slaveholders in the Republic, accomplished day before yesterday a great success — as shallow men estimate success. They converted the Supreme Court of Law and Equity of the United States of America into a propagandist of human Slavery. Fatal day for a judiciary made reputable throughout the world, and reliable to all in this nation, by the learning and the virtues of Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, Rutledge
John Rutledge
John Rutledge was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 31st overall...

, Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth was an American lawyer and politician, a revolutionary against British rule, a drafter of the United States Constitution, and the third Chief Justice of the United States. While at the Federal Convention, Ellsworth moved to strike the word National from the motion made by Edmund...

, Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 and Story
Joseph Story
Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered today for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and The Amistad, along with his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first...

!



The conspiracy is nearly completed. The Legislation of the Republic is in the hands of this handful of Slaveholders. The United States Senate assures it to them. The Executive power of the Government is theirs. Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 took the oath of fealty to them on the steps of the Capitol last Wednesday. The body which gives the supreme law of the land, has just acceded to their demands, and dared to declare that under the charter of the Nation, men of African descent are not citizens of the United States and can not be — that the Ordinance of 1787 was void — that human Slavery is not a local thing, but pursues its victims to free soil, clings to them wherever they go, and returns with them — that the American Congress has no power to prevent the enslavement of men in the National Territories — that the inhabitants themselves of the Territories have no power to exclude human bondage from their midst — and that men of color can not be suitors for justice in the Courts of the United States!



That editorial ended on a martial note:
...All who love Republican institutions and who hate Aristocracy, compact yourselves together for the struggle which threatens your liberty and will test your manhood!


Many abolitionists and some supporters of slavery believed that Taney was prepared to rule, as soon as the issue was presented in a subsequent case, as for instance, Lemmon v. New York
Lemmon v. New York
Lemmon v. New York , a decision by the Superior Court of the City of New York, granted freedom to slaves who were brought into New York by their Virginia slave owners, while in transit to Texas.-Background:...

, that the states had no power to prohibit slavery within their borders and that state laws providing for the emancipation of slaves brought into their territory or forbidding the institution of slavery were likewise unconstitutional. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 stressed this danger during his famous "House Divided" speech
Lincoln's House Divided Speech
The House Divided Speech was an address given by Abraham Lincoln on June 16, 1858, in Springfield, Illinois, upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's United States senator. The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate seat...

 at Springfield, Illinois, on June 16, 1858:


Put this and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits. ...We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.


That fear of the next Dred Scott decision shocked many in the North who had been content to accept slavery as long as it was confined within its present borders. It also put the Northern Democrats, such as Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician from the western state of Illinois, and was the Northern Democratic Party nominee for President in 1860. He lost to the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, whom he had defeated two years earlier in a Senate contest following a famed...

, in a difficult position. The Northern wing of the Democratic Party had supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 under the banner of popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

. They argued that even if Congress did not bar the expansion of slavery into those territories, the residents of those territories could prohibit it by territorial legislation. The Dred Scott decision squarely stated that they could not exercise such prohibition, even though, strictly speaking, that issue was not before the Court.

Without challenging the Court's decision directly, Douglas attempted to overcome that obstacle by creating his Freeport Doctrine
Freeport Doctrine
The Freeport Doctrine was articulated by Stephen A. Douglas at the second of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on August 27, 1858, in Freeport, Illinois. Lincoln tried to force Douglas to choose between the principle of popular sovereignty proposed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the majority decision of...

. Douglas insisted that, even if a territory could not bar slavery outright, the institution could not take root without local police regulations to protect it and a territory could refuse to pass such local support.

This doctrine was wholly unacceptable to Southern Democrats, who reached a different conclusion from the same premise. They argued that if hostile territorial governments could obstruct their right to bring their slaves into a territory by refusing to protect that right, then Congress must intervene to pass a federal slave code for all the territories. They often coupled this position with threats to secede if Congress did not comply.

At the same time, Democrats characterized Republicans as lawless rebels, provoking disunion by their unwillingness to accept the Supreme Court's decision as the law of the land. Many Northern opponents of slavery offered a legalistic argument for refusing to recognize the Dred Scott decision as binding. As they noted, the Court's decision began with the proposition that the federal courts did not have jurisdiction to hear Scott's case because he was not a citizen of the State of Missouri. Therefore, so the opponents argued, the remainder of the decision concerning the Missouri Compromise was unnecessary (i.e., beyond the Court's power to decide) and therefore a passing remark rather than an authoritative interpretation of the law (i.e., obiter dictum
Obiter dictum
Obiter dictum is Latin for a statement "said in passing". An obiter dictum is a remark or observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the court's opinion, does not form a necessary part of the court's decision...

). Douglas attacked this position in the Lincoln–Douglas debates:

Mr. Lincoln goes for a warfare upon the Supreme Court of the United States, because of their judicial decision in the Dred Scott case. I yield obedience to the decisions in that court—to the final determination of the highest judicial tribunal known to our constitution.


Southern supporters of slavery claimed that the Dred Scott decision was essential to the preservation of the union. As the Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 Enquirer stated:

Thus has a politico-legal question, involving others of deep import, been decided emphatically in favor of the advocates and supporters of the Constitution and the Union, the equality of the States and the rights of the South, in contradistinction to and in repudiation of the diabolical doctrines inculcated by factionists and fanatics; and that too by a tribunal of jurists, as learned, impartial and unprejudiced as perhaps the world has ever seen. A prize, for which the athletes of the nation have often wrestled in the halls of Congress, has been awarded at last, by the proper umpire, to those who have justly won it. The "nation" has achieved a triumph, "sectionalism" has been rebuked, and abolitionism has been staggered and stunned. Another supporting pillar has been added to our institutions; the assailants of the South and enemies of the Union have been driven from their point d'appui; a patriotic principle has been pronounced; a great, national, conservative, union saving sentiment has been proclaimed.


While some supporters of slavery treated the decision as a vindication of their rights within the union, others treated it as merely a step to spreading slavery throughout the nation, as the Republicans claimed. Convinced that any restrictions on their right to own slaves and to take them anywhere they chose were unlawful, they boasted that the coming decade would see slave auctions on Boston Common. These Southern radicals were ready to split the Democratic Party and — as events showed — the nation on that principle.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing...

, a prominent African-American abolitionist who thought the decision unconstitutional and the Chief Justice's reasoning inapposite to the founders' vision, prophesied that political conflict could not be avoided.
The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience.... [But] my hopes were never brighter than now. I have no fear that the National Conscience will be put to sleep by such an open, glaring, and scandalous tissue of lies....

The Scott family's fate


The sons of Peter Blow, Scott's first owner, purchased emancipation for Scott and his family on May 26, 1857. Their gaining freedom was national news and celebrated in northern cities.

Scott worked in a hotel in St. Louis, where he was considered a local celebrity. He died of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 only eighteen months later, on November 7, 1858. Harriet died on June 17, 1876.

Later references


Justice John Marshall Harlan
John Marshall Harlan
John Marshall Harlan was a Kentucky lawyer and politician who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. He is most notable as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases , and Plessy v...

 was the lone dissenting vote in the 1896 Supreme Court Plessy v. Ferguson
Plessy v. Ferguson
Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 , is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses , under the doctrine of "separate but equal".The decision was handed...

, which legalized racial segregation and created the concept of “separate but equal.” In his dissent Harlan wrote that the majority’s opinion would “prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case.”

Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. was an American statesman, lawyer and Republican politician from New York. He served as the 36th Governor of New York , Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States , United States Secretary of State , a judge on the Court of International Justice , and...

, writing in 1927 on the Supreme Court's history, described Dred Scott v. Sandford as a "self-inflicted wound" from which the court would not recover for over a decade.

In a memo to Justice Robert H. Jackson
Robert H. Jackson
Robert Houghwout Jackson was United States Attorney General and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court . He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials...

 in 1952 (for whom he was clerking
Law clerk
A law clerk or a judicial clerk is a person who provides assistance to a judge in researching issues before the court and in writing opinions. Law clerks are not court clerks or courtroom deputies, who are administrative staff for the court. Most law clerks are recent law school graduates who...

 at the time) on the subject of Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

, future Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 William H. Rehnquist wrote that "Scott v. Sandford was the result of Taney's effort to protect slaveholders from legislative interference."

Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

 made the comparison between Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion were challenged...

 (1992) and Dred Scott in an effort to see Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

 overturned:

[D]red Scott...rested upon the concept of "substantive due process
Substantive due process
Substantive due process is one of the theories of law through which courts enforce limits on legislative and executive powers and authority...

" that the Court praises and employs today. Indeed, Dred Scott was very possibly the first application of substantive due process in the Supreme Court, the original precedent for...Roe v. Wade.


Scalia noted that the Dred Scott decision, written and championed by Roger B. Taney, left the justice's reputation irrevocably tarnished. Taney, while attempting to end the disruptive question of the future of slavery, wrote a decision that aggravated sectional tensions and was considered to contribute to the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

.

See also


Further reading

  • Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier, by Lea VanderVelde (Oxford University press, 2009) 480 pp. paperback 2011.
  • The "Dred Scott" Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law edited by David Thomas Konig, Paul Finkelman, and Christopher Alan Bracey (Ohio University Press; 2010) 272 pages; essays by scholars on the history of the case and its afterlife in American law and society.

External links


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