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Dred Scott V. Sandford

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    Slavery was at the root of the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Dred Scott sued his master to obtain freedom for himself and his family. His argument was that he had lived in a territory where slavery was illegal; therefore he should be considered a free man. Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia around 1800. Scott and his family were slaves owned by Peter Blow and his family. He moved to St. Louis with them in 1830 and was sold to John Emerson, a military doctor. They went to Illinois and the Wisconsin territory where the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery.

    Dred Scott married and had two daughters. John Emerson married Irene Sanford. In 1842, they all returned to St. Louis, Missouri. John Emerson died the next year. In 1846, Scotts sued Irene Emerson for their freedom. The Scott’s stay in free territories gave them the ability to sue for their freedom. However, they did not do this while they were living there (Dred Scott’s Fight). In 1847, the St. Louis courthouse ruled against Scott but he was given the right to a second trial. In 1850, in the second trial, the jury decided that the Scotts should be freed. Mrs.

    Emerson did not want to lose the Scotts, so she appealed her case to the Missouri State Supreme Court. The Missouri State Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1852. In St. Louis Federal Court, Dred Scott sued Mrs. Emerson’s brother, John Sanford. The Court ruled in favor of Sanford. Dred Scott appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court (Dred Scott’s Fight). Dred Scott argued that he had been freed as a result of living with his master in the free state of Illinois and in federal territory. The Missouri Compromise forbade slavery there. In the slave states, slaves were considered valuable property; Mrs.

    Emerson did not want to lose the Scotts. Her main argument was that they were depriving her of property, Dred Scott and his family, without due process or compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment (Dred Scott v. Sandford). Chief Justice Taney, who happened to be a former slave owner, gave the majority opinion, 7-2, ruling against Dred Scott. He also said as a person of African descent, Dred Scott was not a citizen and could not sue in federal court. He added that Scott had never been free, since slaves were considered personal property (Dred Scott v. Sanford 63).

    There were two Justices, McLean and Curtis, who disagreed. They argued that once the Court determined it had no jurisdiction to hear case, it had to dismiss it, not make a ruling. They also felt there was no Constitutional basis for the claim that blacks could not be citizens. When the Constitution was ratified, black men could vote in five of 13 states. This made them citizens of their states as well as the U. S (The Supreme Court) The Dred Scott decision was significant because it was the first time since Marbury v. Madison that the Supreme Court said an act of congress was unconstitutional.

    It said the congress had no power to ban slavery in the federal territories; therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. By doing this, the Court also said people in the territories had no right to decide whether their state should be a free or a slave state. This was known as popular sovereignty. The decision also hurt the new Republican Party which was trying to stop the spread of slavery. Further, this decision continued the conflict over slavery between the north and south and brought the country closer to civil war (Dred Scott v. Sanford 64). The Supreme Court did not directly overturn the Dred Scott Decision.

    However, two amendments to the constitution did supersede it. The Court did say at least one part of it had been overruled by the 14th amendment in 1868. “All persons born or naturalized in the U. S. , and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of U. S. and of the state in which they reside. ” In addition, the 13th amendment outlawed slavery (US Constitution, Amendments 13 and 14). After the Court’s decision, Peter Blow’s (the former owner of the Scotts) son purchased Scott and his family and set them free. He had also helped them pay for their legal fees. Dred Scott died only nine months later (Dred Scott’s Fight).

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    Dred Scott V. Sandford. (2016, Sep 29). Retrieved from

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