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Dred Scott v. Sandford

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Dred Scott v. Sandford
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 11–14, 1856
Reargued December 15–18, 1856
Decided March 6, 1857
Full case name Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford[1]
Citations 60 U.S. 393 (more)
19 Howard 393; 15 L. Ed. 691; 1856 WL 8721; 1857 U.S. LEXIS 472
Prior history Judgment for defendant, C.C. Mo.
Holding
Judgment reversed and suit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
1. Persons of African descent cannot be, nor were ever intended to be, citizens under the U.S. Const. Plaintiff is without standing to file a suit.
2. The Property Clause is only applicable to lands possessed at the time of ratification (1787). As such, Congress cannot ban slavery in the territories. Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional.
3. Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the federal government from freeing slaves brought into federal territories.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Taney, joined by Wayne, Catron, Daniel, Nelson, Grier, Campbell
Concurrence Wayne
Concurrence Catron
Concurrence Daniel
Concurrence Nelson, joined by Grier
Concurrence Grier
Concurrence Campbell
Dissent McLean
Dissent Curtis
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. V; Missouri Compromise
Superseded by
U.S. Const. amends. XIII, XIV

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court,[2][3] and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott's request. For only the second time to that point in its history, the Supreme Court ruled an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional.[4]

Although Taney hoped that his ruling would finally settle the slavery question, the decision immediately spurred vehement dissent from anti-slavery elements in the North, especially Republicans. Many contemporary lawyers, and most modern legal scholars, consider the ruling regarding slavery in the territories to be dictum, not binding precedent. The decision proved to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War. It was functionally superseded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave African Americans full citizenship.

The Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford is unanimously denounced by scholars. Bernard Schwartz says it, "stands first in any list of the worst Supreme Court decisions — Chief Justice C.E. Hughes called it the Court's greatest self-inflicted wound."[5] Junius P. Rodriguez says it is "universally condemned as the U.S. Supreme Court's worst decision."[6] Konig et al. say it was "unquestionably, our court's worst decision ever."[7][8][3]

Background[edit]

Portrait of Dred Scott
Main article: Dred Scott

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia in 1795. Little is known of his early years.[9] His owner, Peter Blow, moved to Alabama in 1818, taking his six slaves along to work a farm near Huntsville. In 1830, Blow gave up farming and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where he sold Scott to U.S. Army Surgeon Dr. John Emerson.[10] After purchasing Scott, Emerson took him to Fort Armstrong, which was located in Illinois. A free state, Illinois had been free as a territory under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and had prohibited slavery in its constitution in 1819 when it was admitted as a state.

In 1836, Emerson moved with Scott from Illinois to Fort Snelling, which was located in the Wisconsin territory in what would become the state of Minnesota. Slavery in the Wisconsin Territory (some of which, including the location of Fort Snelling, was a part of the Louisiana Purchase) was prohibited by the United States Congress under the Missouri Compromise. During his stay at Fort Snelling, Scott married Harriet Robinson in a civil ceremony by Harriet's owner, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, a justice of the peace who was also an Indian agent. The ceremony would have been unnecessary if Dred Scott were a slave, as slave marriages had no recognition in the law.[3][10]

In 1837, the Army ordered Emerson to Jefferson Barracks Military Post, south of St. Louis, Missouri. Emerson left Scott and his wife at Fort Snelling, where he leased their services 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.[3]

Before the end of the year, the Army reassigned Emerson to Fort Jesup in Louisiana. There Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford in February 1838. Emerson 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 underway along the Mississippi River between Illinois and what would become Iowa. Because Eliza was born in free territory, she was technically born as a free person under both federal and state laws. Upon entering Louisiana, the Scotts could have sued for their freedom, but did not. Finkelman suggests that in all likelihood, the Scotts would have been granted their freedom by a Louisiana court, as it had respected laws of free states that slaveholders forfeited their right to slaves if they brought them in for extended periods. This had been Louisiana state precedent for more than 20 years.[3]

Toward the end of 1838, the Army reassigned Emerson to Fort Snelling. By 1840, Emerson's wife Irene returned to St. Louis with their slaves, while Dr. Emerson served in the Seminole War. While in St. Louis, she hired them out. In 1842, Emerson left the Army. After he died in the Iowa Territory in 1843, his widow Irene inherited his estate, including the Scotts. For three years after John Emerson's death, she continued to lease out the Scotts as hired slaves. In 1846, Scott attempted to purchase his and his family's freedom, but Irene Emerson refused, prompting Scott to resort to legal recourse.[11]

Procedural history[edit]

First attempt[edit]

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 family of his previous owner, Peter Blow.[3] Blow's daughter Charlotte was married to Joseph Charless, an officer at the Bank of Missouri. Charless signed the legal documents as security for Dred Scott and secured the services of the bank's attorney, Samuel Mansfield Bay, for the trial.[10]

Scott based his legal argument on precedents such as Somersett v. Stewart, Winny v. Whitesides,[12] and Rachel v. Walker,[13] 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.

It was expected that the Scotts would win their freedom with relative ease since Missouri courts had previously heard over ten other cases in which they had freed slaves who had been taken into free territory.[3] Furthermore, the case had been assigned to Judge Alexander Hamilton, who was known to be sympathetic to slave freedom suits.[10] However, in June 1847, Scott lost his case due to a technicality: Scott had not proven that he was actually enslaved by Irene Emerson. At the trial, grocer Samuel Russell had testified that he was leasing Scott from Irene Emerson, but on cross-examination he admitted that the leasing arrangements had actually been made by his wife Adeline. Thus, Russell's testimony was ruled hearsay and the jury returned a verdict for Emerson.[10]

Scott v. Emerson[edit]

In December 1847, Judge Hamilton granted Scott a new trial. Emerson appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which affirmed the trial court's order in 1848. Due to a major fire, a cholera 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 Sheriff, who continued to lease out the services of Scott and his family. The proceeds were placed in escrow, to be paid to Scott's owner or himself upon resolution of the case.

In the 1850 trial, Scott was represented by Alexander P. Field and David N. Hall, both of whom had previously shared offices with Charles Edmund LaBeaume, the brother of Peter Blow's daughter-in-law. The hearsay problem was surmounted by a deposition from Adeline Russell, stating that she had leased the Scotts from Emerson. The jury found in favor of Scott and his family. 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 and transferred ownership of Scott to her brother, John F. A. Sanford.

In November 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the trial court'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:

Times are not now as they were when the former decisions on this subject were made. Since then not only individuals but States have been possessed with a dark and fell spirit in relation to slavery, whose gratification is sought in the pursuit of measures, whose inevitable consequences must be the overthrow and destruction of our government. Under such circumstances it does not behoove the State of Missouri to show the least countenance to any measure which might gratify this spirit. She is willing to assume her full responsibility for the existence of slavery within her limits, nor does she seek to share or divide it with others.[14]

Scott v. Sanford[edit]

At this point, the case looked hopeless and the Blow family decided that they could no longer pay for Scott's legal costs. Scott also lost both of his lawyers, as Alexander Field had moved to Louisiana and David Hall had died. The case was now undertaken pro bono by Roswell Field, whose office employed Dred Scott as a janitor. Field also discussed the case with LaBeaume, who had taken over the lease on the Scotts in 1851. [15] Following the Missouri Supreme Court decision, Judge Hamilton turned down a request by Emerson's lawyers to release the rent payments from escrow and to deliver the slaves into their owner's custody.[10]

In 1853, Dred Scott again sued his current owner, John Sanford,[1] but now in federal court. Sanford had returned to New York, so the federal courts now had diversity jurisdiction under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. In addition to the existing complaints, Scott also alleged that Sanford had assaulted his family and held them captive for six hours on January 1, 1853.[16]

At trial in 1854, Judge Robert William Wells directed the jury to rely on Missouri law to settle the question of Scott's freedom. Since the Missouri Supreme Court had held that Scott remained a slave, the jury found in favor of Sanford. Scott then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case was misspelled as Dred Scott v. Sandford and entered history with that misspelling. Scott was represented before the Supreme Court by Montgomery Blair and George Ticknor Curtis, whose brother Benjamin was a Supreme Court Justice. Sanford was represented by Reverdy Johnson and Henry S. Geyer.[10]

Influence of President Buchanan[edit]

Historians discovered that after the Supreme Court had heard arguments in the case but before it had issued a ruling, the President-elect James Buchanan wrote to his friend, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Catron, asking whether the case would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court before his inauguration in March 1857.[17] 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, a Northerner, to join the Southern majority in Dred Scott to prevent the appearance that the decision was made along sectional lines.[18] By present-day standards, such correspondence would be considered improper ex parte 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.[19] Republicans fueled speculation as to Buchanan's influence by publicizing that Chief Justice Roger Taney had secretly informed Buchanan of the decision before Buchanan declared, in his inaugural address, that the slavery question would "be speedily and finally settled" by the Supreme Court.[20][21]

Decision[edit]

Cover sheet summarizing the disposition of the case

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.[22] In total, six Justices agreed with the ruling; Samuel Nelson concurred with the ruling but not its reasoning, and Benjamin Robbins Curtis and John McLean dissented. The court misspelled Sanford's name in the decision.[23]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

There were three questions before the Court.

The Supreme Court first had to decide whether the federal Circuit Court had jurisdiction to hear Scott's case. Chief Justice Taney began the analysis with the established principles that federal judicial power is limited and that the record must affirmatively demonstrate that a case falls within one of the categories recognized by the Constitution. 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..." (This particular ground is known as "diversity jurisdiction".) Scott declared he was a "citizen" of the State of Missouri and that the defendant was a citizen of the State of New York. The Court acknowledged that this prima facie established federal jurisdiction under the Diversity Clause. However, Sanford disputed the jurisdictional claim and alleged that Scott was a descendant of an imported African slave, and by reason of such fact could not be a "citizen" of any State. Scott did not dispute his ancestry, but contended other allegations in his suit made evident that he had been emancipated, and therefore could have the status of "citizen". The Court held that neither Scott nor any other person of African descent—whether or not emancipated from slavery—could be "citizen of a state", and therefore was unable to bring suit in federal court on the ground of diversity. 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 Negro descendant of a slave) as a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. Relying upon statements made by Charles Pinckney, who had claimed authorship of the Privileges and Immunities Clause during the debates over the Missouri Compromise,[24] Taney decided: "the affirmative of these propositions cannot be maintained." According to Taney, the authors of the Constitution 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 argument, based on the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, listing what the Court considered to be the rights of citizens, and the inevitable and undesirable effects of granting 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.[25]

If Scott had been a citizen according to Missouri law, then the question of whether the Circuit 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.

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"):[26] the provisions of the Missouri Compromise 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 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 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).

The third[clarification needed] 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 (then part of the Wisconsin Territory) make him a free man? Citing a similar case in Strader v. Graham (1851), 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 Circuit 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.

Concurrence by Justice Nelson[edit]

Technically, Nelson did not concur in the judgment of the Supreme Court, for the formal judgment of that Court was that "the judgment [of the Circuit Court] for the defendant ... be reversed, and a mandate issued directing the suit [of plaintiff Scott] to be dismissed for want of jurisdiction", 60 U.S. at 454, whereas Nelson would have affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court, 60 U.S. at 469. However, in terms of the practical effect on Scott and his family, it was immaterial as to whether his case was to be dismissed, as ordered by the Court, or the judgment declaring on the merits that they were all still slaves be affirmed, as Nelson would have held. However, the legal theories of Nelson and the Court were very different. Nelson expressly declined to address the jurisdictional issue, but instead addressed the merits of Scott's case.

The Supreme Court, which addressed the merits in dictum, expressed the view that the federal statute which had prohibited slavery in the "Territory of Upper Louisiana" was unconstitutional. (At the time of Scott's sojourn this area was administered as the Wisconsin Territory. The term "Territory of Upper Louisiana" was used in Nelson's opinion and the formal Statement of the Case. However, that was the name used for the area during French administration, not the American administration.) Nelson found it unnecessary to reach this constitutional issue. To Nelson, the merits properly turned on a principle of states' rights. He assumed for purposes of argument that Scott might have been emancipated during his sojourn in Illinois and/or his sojourn in Upper Louisiana. However, in Nelson's view each state that permitted slavery had the constitutional right to determine what effect it would give to any emancipation which might have occurred elsewhere once the Negro person had returned to that state.

A state might, as the State of Louisiana did for a period by court decision, decide to honor extraterritorial emancipation; or a state might, as the State of Missouri did when its Supreme Court reversed Scott's initial victory in the Missouri court, decide to nullify any extraterritorial emancipation and revive the slave status. Since the State of Missouri had clearly determined that it considered Scott still to be a slave, irrespective of any prior emancipation, that foreclosed the issue for Nelson, and the federal Circuit Court properly found him and his family to be slaves while they were in Missouri.

Dissents by Justice Curtis and Justice McLean[edit]

Presiding Judge of the Louisiana Supreme Court George Mathews Jr. ruling in Marie Louise v. Marot (1835) was cited as precedent by dissenting Justice McLean during the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

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

Nor, these justices argued, was there any 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.[27] Therefore, Justice McLean concluded that the argument that Scott was not a citizen was "more a matter of taste than of law". In his dissent, Justice McLean cited as precedent Marie Louise v. Marot, an 1835 case in which Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice George Mathews Jr. ruled that "being free for one moment in France, it was not in the power of her former owner to reduce her again to slavery." [28]

Consequences[edit]

Economic[edit]

Perhaps the most immediate business consequence of the decision was to help trigger the Panic of 1857. 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 immediately gripped the markets. The 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.[29]

Political[edit]

The decision was hailed in Southern slaveholding society as a proper interpretation of the United States Constitution. According to Jefferson Davis, then a United States Senator from Mississippi, and later President of the Confederate States of America, the Dred Scott case was merely a question "whether Cuffee should be kept in his normal condition or not".[30] At that time, "Cuffee" was a term commonly used to describe a black person.[31]

Prior to Dred Scott, Democratic Party politicians had sought repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and were finally successful in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. 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, 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.

Reaction[edit]

Opponents of slavery fiercely attacked the Dred Scott decision. The Evening Journal of Albany, New York, 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:[32]

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, Rutledge, Ellsworth, Marshall and Story!

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 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, 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 stressed this danger during his famous "House Divided" speech 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, 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. 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. 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). 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.

Democrats had previously refused to accept the Court's interpretation of the Constitution as permanently binding. During the Jackson Administration, the Attorney General had written:

Whatever may be the force of the decision of the Supreme Court in binding the parties and settling their rights in the particular case before them, I am not prepared to admit that a construction given to the constitution by the Supreme Court in deciding any one or more cases fixes of itself irrevokably [sic] and permanently its constuction in that particular and binds the states and the Legislative and executive branches of the General government, forever afterwards to conform to it and adopt it in every other case as the true reading of the instrument although all of them may unite in believing it erroneous.[33]

That Attorney General was Roger B. Taney.

Southern supporters of slavery claimed that the Dred Scott decision was essential to the preservation of the union. As the Richmond 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, 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 ...[34]

The Scott family's fate[edit]

Irene Emerson had moved to Massachusetts in 1850 and married Calvin C. Chaffee, a doctor and abolitionist who was elected to Congress on the Know Nothing and Republican tickets. Following the Supreme Court ruling, proslavery newspapers attacked Chaffee as a hypocrite. Chaffee protested that Dred Scott belonged to his brother-in law and that he had nothing to do with Scott's enslavement.[16] Nevertheless, the Chaffees executed a deed transferring the Scott family to Taylor Blow. Field suggested the transfer to Chaffee as the most convenient way of freeing Scott, as Missouri law required manumitters to appear in person before the Court.[16]

Taylor Blow filed the manumission papers with Judge Hamilton on May 26, 1857. The emancipation of Dred Scott and his family was national news and was celebrated in northern cities. Scott worked as a porter in a hotel in St. Louis, where he was a minor celebrity. His wife took in laundry.

Dred Scott died of tuberculosis only 18 months after attaining freedom, on November 7, 1858. Harriet died on June 17, 1876.[10]

Sanford as defendant[edit]

When the case was filed, the two sides agreed on a statement of facts that claimed Scott had been sold by Dr. Emerson to John Sanford. However, this was a legal fiction. Dr. Emerson had died in 1843, and Dred Scott had filed his 1847 suit against Irene Emerson. There is no record of Dred Scott's transfer to Sanford, or of his transfer back to Irene Chaffee. John Sanford died shortly before Scott's manumission, but Scott is not listed in the probate records of Sanford's estate.[15] Nor was Sanford acting as Dr. Emerson's executor, as he was never appointed by a probate court, and the Emerson estate had already been settled by the time the federal case was filed.[3]

Because of the murky circumstances surrounding ownership, it has been suggested that the parties to Dred Scott v. Sandford contrived to create a test case.[15][16][11] Mrs. Emerson's remarriage to an abolitionist Congressman seemed suspicious to contemporaries, and Sanford seemed to be a front who allowed himself to be sued despite not actually being Scott's owner. However, Sanford had been involved in the case since 1847, before his sister married Chaffee. He had secured counsel for his sister in the state case, and he engaged the same lawyer for his own defense in the federal case.[11] Sanford also consented to be represented by genuine pro-slavery advocates before the Supreme Court, rather than putting up a token defense.

Later references[edit]

Justice John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissenting vote in the 1896 Supreme Court Plessy v. Ferguson, 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."[35]

Charles Evans Hughes, 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.[36][37]

In a memo to Justice Robert H. Jackson in 1952 (for whom he was clerking at the time) on the subject of Brown v. Board of Education, future Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that "Scott v. Sandford was the result of Taney's effort to protect slaveholders from legislative interference."[38]

Justice Antonin Scalia made the comparison between Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Dred Scott in an effort to see Roe v. Wade overturned:

[D]red Scott...rested upon the concept of "substantive due process" 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.[39]

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.[40]

Chief Justice John Roberts compared Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) to the Dred Scott case, as another example of trying to settle a contentious issue through a ruling that went beyond the scope of the Constitution.[41]

Legacy[edit]

  • 1977: The Scotts' great-grandson, John A. Madison, Jr., an attorney, gave the invocation at the ceremony at the Old Courthouse (St. Louis) in St. Louis, a National Historic Landmark, for the dedication of a National Historic Marker commemorating the Scotts' case tried there.[42]
  • 2000: Harriet and Dred Scott's petition papers in their freedom suit were displayed at the main branch of the St. Louis Public Library, following discovery of more than 300 freedom suits in the archives of the U.S. circuit court.[43]
  • 2006: A new historic plaque was erected at the Old Courthouse to honor the active roles of both Dred and Harriet Scott in their freedom suit and the case's significance in U.S. history.[44]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b While the name of the Supreme Court case is Scott vs. Sandford, the respondent's surname was actually "Sanford". A clerk misspelled the name, and the court never corrected the error. Vishneski, John (1988). "What the Court Decided in Dred Scott v. Sandford". The American Journal of Legal History (Temple University) 32 (4): 373–390. doi:10.2307/845743. JSTOR 845743. 
  2. ^ Frederic D. Schwarz "The Dred Scott Decision", American Heritage, February/March 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Finkelman, Paul (2007). "Scott v. Sandford: The Court's Most Dreadful Case and How it Changed History" (PDF). Chicago-Kent Law Review 82 (3): 3–48. 
  4. ^ "Legislation Declared Unconstitutional". CQ Press. 
  5. ^ Bernard Schwartz (1997). A Book of Legal Lists : The Best and Worst in American Law. Oxford UP. p. 70. 
  6. ^ Junius P. Rodriguez (2007). Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1. 
  7. ^ David Konig et al. (2010). The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law. Ohio UP. p. 213. 
  8. ^ Ethan Greenberg (2010). Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court. Lexington Books. p. 6. 
  9. ^ Earl M. Maltz, Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery (2007)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h "Missouri's Dred Scott Case, 1846-1857". Missouri Digital Heritage: African American HIstory Initiative. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (2001)
  12. ^ 1 Mo. 472, 475 (Mo. 1824).
  13. ^ 4 Mo. 350 (Mo. 1836). Rachel is remarkable as its fact pattern was on point for Scott's case. Rachel had been a female slave taken into the free Wisconsin Territory by her owner, who was an army officer. In Rachel, the Supreme Court of Missouri held she was free as a consequence of having been taken by her master into a free jurisdiction.
  14. ^ Scott v. Emerson, 15 Mo. 576, 586 (Mo. 1852) Retrieved August 20, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c Ehrlich, Walter (September 1968). "Was the Dred Scott Case Valid?". The Journal of American History (Organization of American Historians) 55 (2): 256–265. JSTOR 1899556. 
  16. ^ a b c d Hardy, David T. (2012). "Dred Scott, John San(d)ford, and the Case for Collusion" (PDF). Northern Kentucky Law Review 41 (1). 
  17. ^ Maltz, Earl M. (2007). Dred Scott and the politics of slavery. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. p. 115. ISBN 0-7006-1502-4. 
  18. ^ Faragher, John Mack et al. (2005). Out of Many: A History of the American People (Revised Printing (4th Edition) ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. p. 388. ISBN 0-13-195130-0. 
  19. ^ Baker, Jean H. (2004). James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857-1861. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-6946-4. 
  20. ^ "James Buchanan: Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  21. ^ "C K Law Review" (PDF). cklawreview.com. 
  22. ^ "60 US 393 Dred Scott v. John F a Sandford". OpenJurist. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  23. ^ Fehrenbacher, D. E. (1978). The Dred Scott case. Pg. 2. New York: Oxford University Press.
  24. ^ Kelly, Alfred H.; Winfred A. Harbison (1976). The American Constitution: Its Origins and Development (5th ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 253–54. 
  25. ^ "For if they [African-Americans] were so received, and entitled to tne privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they [the slave States] considered necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its [a slave State's] own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon public affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State." 60 U.S. 393, 416-417 (1857).
  26. ^ Kermit L. Hall (1999). The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions. Oxford University Press. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-19-513924-2. 
  27. ^ Abraham Lincoln's Speech on the Dred Scott Decision, June 26, 1857.
  28. ^ "Champion of Civil Rights: Judge John Minor Wisdom". Southern Biography Series: LSU Press, 2009, p 24. http://books.google.com/books?id=atfIkRdwQ9kC&pg=PA24&dq=%22louisiana%22+%22george+mathews%22&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%20%22george%20mathews%22&f=false Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  29. ^ Charles Calomiris and Larry Schweikart, "The Panic of 1857: Origins, Transmission, Containment," Journal of Economic History, LI, December 1990, pp. 807–34.
  30. ^ Speech to the United States Senate, May 7, 1860
  31. ^ See http://books.google.com/books?id=5fiwomZF8DIC&pg=PA15&lpg=PA15&dq=cuffee+derogatory&source=bl&ots=1WB7BfZcy1&sig=EFT4-p_nfPjtVj1egkzlUVZpeSs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QLoAU5bEHsqCygG--4CYBQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=cuffee%20derogatory&f=false
  32. ^ Benson, Lloyd (editor). "The Issue Forced Upon Us.". Secession Era Editorials Project. Furman University. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  33. ^ Don E. Fehrenbacher (1978/2001), The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics, reprint, New York: Oxford, Part 3, "Consequences and Echoes", Chapter 18, "The Judges Judged", p. 441; unpublished opinion, transcript in Carl B. Swisher Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
  34. ^ Dred Scott vs. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents - Google Boeken. 
  35. ^ Fehrenbacher p. 580.
  36. ^ "Introduction to the court opinion on the Dredd Scott case". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2015-07-16. 
  37. ^ "Remarks of the Chief Justice". Supreme Court of the United States. March 21, 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  38. ^ Rehnquist, William A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases, Robert H. Jackson.
  39. ^ Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). FindLaw.
  40. ^ Carey, Patrick W. (April 2002). "Political Atheism: Dred Scott, Roger Brooke Taney, and Orestes A. Brownson". The Catholic Historical Review (The Catholic University of America Press) 88 (2): 207–229. doi:10.1353/cat.2002.0072. ISSN 1534-0708.  (requires subscription)
  41. ^ Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (1992).
  42. ^ Adam Arenson, "Dred Scott versus the Dred Scott Case", The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law, Ohio University Press, 2010, p.36
  43. ^ Arenson (2010), Dred Scott Case, p. 38
  44. ^ Arenson (2010), Dred Scott Case, p. 39

Further reading[edit]

  • Fehrenbacher, Don E. Slavery, Law, and Politics: The Dred Scott Case in Historical Perspective (1981)
  • Konig, David Thomas, Paul Finkelman, and Christopher Alan Bracey, eds. The "Dred Scott" Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law (Ohio University Press; 2010) 272 pages; essays by scholars on the history of the case and its afterlife in American law and society.
  • Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (1976) pp 267–96
  • VanderVelde, Lea. Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier (Oxford University press, 2009) 480 pp.
  • Swain, Gwenyth (2004). Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom. Saint Paul, MN: Borealis Books. ISBN 978-0-87351-482-8. 
  • Tushnet, Mark (2008). I dissent: Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Cases. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 31–44. ISBN 978-0-8070-0036-6. 

External links[edit]