Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), also known as
Dred Scott case, was a landmark decision by the United States
Supreme Court on
US labor law
US labor law and constitutional law. It held that "a
negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as
slaves", whether enslaved or free, could not be an American
citizen and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court;
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 man of "the negro African race" 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. The decision was
only the second time that the Supreme Court had ruled an Act of
Congress to be unconstitutional.
Although Taney hoped that his ruling would settle the slavery
question, the decision immediately spurred vehement dissent from
anti-slavery elements in the North, and proved to be an indirect
catalyst for the American Civil War. It was functionally superseded by
Civil Rights Act of 1866
Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution, adopted in 1868, which gave African
Americans full citizenship.
The Supreme Court's decision in
Dred Scott v. Sandford is unanimously
denounced by modern scholars. Many contemporary lawyers, and most
modern legal scholars, consider the ruling regarding slavery in the
territories to be obiter dictum and not a binding precedent. 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
Junius P. Rodriguez says it is "universally
condemned as the U.S. Supreme Court's worst decision". Historian
David Thomas Konig says it was "unquestionably, our court's worst
2 Procedural history
2.1 First attempt
2.2 Scott v. Emerson
2.3 Scott v. Sanford
2.4 Influence of President Buchanan
3 Supreme Court ruling
3.1 Opinion of the Court
3.2 Concurrence by Justice Nelson
3.3 Dissents by Justice Curtis and Justice McLean
6 The Scott family's fate
7 Sanford as defendant
8 Later references
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Main article: Dred Scott
Events leading to
the American Civil War
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
Battle of Negro Fort
Tariff of 1828
Nat Turner's slave rebellion
Prigg v. Pennsylvania
Compromise of 1850
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Caning of Charles Sumner
Dred Scott v. Sandford
The Impending Crisis of the South
Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry
1860 presidential election
Secession of Southern States
Star of the West
Battle of Fort Sumter
Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia in 1795. Little is known of
his early years. 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. After purchasing
Scott, Emerson took him to Fort Armstrong 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 in
Wisconsin territory in what has become the state of Minnesota.
Slavery in the Wisconsin Territory (some of which, including Fort
Snelling, was 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
Dred Scott been a slave, as slave marriages had no recognition in
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
Before the end of the year, the army reassigned Emerson to Fort Jesup
in Louisiana, where 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 on 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 the holding in
Louisiana state courts for more than 20 years.
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.
Having been unsuccessful in his attempt to purchase freedom for 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. 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
Scott based his legal argument on precedents such as Somersett v.
Stewart, Winny v. Whitesides, and Rachel v. Walker, 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 more than ten other
cases in which they had freed slaves who had been taken into free
territory. Furthermore, the case had been assigned to Judge
Alexander Hamilton, who was known to be sympathetic to slave freedom
suits. Scott was represented by three lawyers during the course of
the case because it was over a year from the time of the original
petition filing to the trial. His first lawyer was Francis B. Murdoch,
who was replaced by Charles D. Drake. When Drake left St. Louis in
Samuel M. Bay
Samuel M. Bay took over as Scott's lawyer. 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.
Scott v. Emerson
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, holding 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.
Scott v. Sanford
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. 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
Dred Scott again sued his current owner, John Sanford, 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.
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 recorded as
Dred Scott v. Sandford and
entered history with that title. 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
Reverdy Johnson and Henry S. Geyer.
Influence of President Buchanan
Historians discovered that after the Supreme Court had heard arguments
in the case but before it had issued a ruling, 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. 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. Both by present-day standards and under the more lenient
standards of the time, Buchanan's applying such political pressure to
a member of a sitting court would be regarded as highly improper.
Republicans fueled speculation as to Buchanan's influence by
publicizing that Chief Justice
Roger B. Taney
Roger B. 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.
Supreme Court ruling
Opinion of the Court
In a 7-2 decision penned by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Supreme
Court held that it lacked
Subject-matter jurisdiction by Article III's
provision for diversity of citizenship because Scott was not a
"citizen" in the relevant sense of the term and states could not
naturalize as Article-III citizens the descendants of African slaves.
Taney's majority opinion continued, in obiter dictum, to deem the
Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional and foreclose Congress
from freeing slaves within Federal territories.
The principal holding that Scott was not an Article-III citizen was
abrogated in 1868 by the Birthright Citizenship Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. By opining
on the fate of the Missouri Compromise, the decision, in effect,
became the second in U.S. history to strike down an act of Congress as
unconstitutional. The prohibition on territories from freeing slaves
was the first time the Supreme Court invoked the legal doctrine of
substantive due process.
Taney relied on historical analysis to support the Court's decision
that Scott was not an Article-III citizen, and summarized the
historical attitudes thusly:
[Black Africans imported as slaves] had for more than a century before
been regarded 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; and that the negro might justly and
lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and
sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic,
whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time
fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was
regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one
thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in
every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it
in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern,
without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.
Concurrence by Justice Nelson
Justice Samuel Nelson
Technically, Associate Justice
Samuel 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. In Nelson's view, however, each
state that permitted slavery had the constitutional right to determine
what effect it would give to any emancipation that 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
Dissents by Justice Curtis and Justice McLean
John McLean was the senior justice of the two dissenting
John McLean dissented, writing that there was no 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". In his dissent, Justice McLean cited as precedent Marie
Louise v. Marot, an 1835 case in which
Louisiana Supreme Court
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."
Justice Curtis was the junior dissenting justice.
Justice Benjamin Robbins 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.
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Perhaps the most immediate business consequence of the decision was to
help trigger the Panic of 1857. Economist Charles Calomiris and
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
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.
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 of "whether Cuffee should be kept in his
normal condition or not". At that time, "cuffee" was a term
commonly used to describe a black person.
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
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 opposition
to slavery, divided the Democratic Party on sectional lines,
encouraged secessionist elements among Southern supporters of slavery
to make bolder demands, and strengthened the Republican Party.
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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
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
Abraham Lincoln stressed this danger during his
famous "House Divided" speech at Springfield, Illinois, on June 16,
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 then 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
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
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
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
Democrats had previously refused to accept the Court's interpretation
of the Constitution as permanently binding. During the Jackson
administration, Roger B. Taney, working as Attorney General,
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
construction 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.
Southern supporters of slavery claimed that the
Dred Scott decision
was essential to the preservation of the union. As the Richmond
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 contrary 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
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
Dred Scott belonged to his brother-in law and that he
had nothing to do with Scott's enslavement. Nevertheless, the
Chaffees executed a deed transferring the Scott family to Taylor Blow,
son of Scott's former owner Peter 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.
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
Dred Scott died of tuberculosis only 18 months after attaining
freedom, on November 7, 1858. Harriet died on June 17, 1876.
Sanford as defendant
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. 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.
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. 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. Sanford also
consented to be represented by genuine pro-slavery advocates before
the Supreme Court, rather than putting up a token defense.
John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissenting vote in Plessy v.
Ferguson (1896), which declared racial segregation constitutional 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
Charles Evans Hughes, writing in 1927 on the Supreme Court's history,
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 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
William H. Rehnquist wrote that "Scott v.
Sandford was the result of Taney's effort to protect slaveholders from
Antonin Scalia made the comparison between Planned Parenthood
v. Casey (1992) and
Dred Scott in an effort to see Roe v. Wade
Dred 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.
Scalia noted that the
Dred Scott decision, written and championed by
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.
John Roberts compared
Obergefell v. Hodges
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
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
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.
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.
American slave court cases
United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court cases, volume 60
United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court cases
Origins of the American Civil War
Privileges and Immunities Clause
Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
United States labor law
^ 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.
^ "Introduction to the court opinion on the Dredd Scott case". U.S.
Department of State. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
^ a b "Remarks of the Chief Justice". Supreme Court of the United
States. March 21, 2003. Retrieved 2016-03-25.
^ Frederic D. Schwarz Archived 2008-12-03 at the Wayback Machine. "The
Dred Scott Decision", American Heritage, February/March 2007.
^ 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.
^ D. R. Tarr; A. O'Connor, eds. (2003). "Legislation declared
unconstitutional". Congress A to Z (4th ed.). Washington: CQ Press.
doi:10.4135/9781483302768.n191. Archived from the original on November
^ Bernard Schwartz (1997). A Book of Legal Lists : The Best and
Worst in American Law. Oxford UP. p. 70.
Junius P. Rodriguez (2007).
Slavery in the United States: A Social,
Political, and Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1.
^ David Konig; et al. (2010). The
Dred Scott Case: Historical and
Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law. Ohio UP. p. 213.
^ Ethan Greenberg (2010).
Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political
Court. Lexington Books. p. 6.
^ Earl M. Maltz,
Dred Scott and the Politics of
^ a b c d e f g h "Missouri's
Dred Scott Case, 1846-1857". Missouri
Digital Heritage: African American HIstory Initiative. Retrieved 15
^ a b c Don E. Fehrenbacher, The
Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in
American Law and Politics (2001)
^ 1 Mo. 472, 475 (Mo. 1824).
^ 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
Supreme Court of Missouri
Supreme Court of Missouri held she was free as a
consequence of having been taken by her master into a free
^ Ehrlich, Walter (2007). They Have No Rights: Dred Scott's Struggle
for Freedom. Applewood Books.
^ Scott v. Emerson, 15 Mo. 576, 586 (Mo. 1852) Archived 2013-12-13 at
the Wayback Machine. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
^ 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.
^ 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).
Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-10.
^ Maltz, Earl M. (2007).
Dred Scott and the politics of slavery.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. p. 115.
^ Faragher, John Mack; et al. (2005). Out of Many: A History of the
American People (Revised Printing (4th Ed) ed.). Englewood Cliffs,
N.J: Prentice Hall. p. 388. ISBN 0-13-195130-0.
^ Baker, Jean H. (2004). James Buchanan: The American Presidents
Series: The 15th President, 1857-1861. Macmillan.
^ "James Buchanan: Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989".
Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
^ "C K Law Review" (PDF). cklawreview.com. Archived from the original
(PDF) on 2012-12-03.
^ Alexander Bickel, School desegregation cases and legislative history
of the Fourteenth Amendment in the 39th Congress: Internal Memorandum
for Justice Felix Frankfurter, The Felix Frankfurter Papers, Part II:
United States Supreme Court, Case Files of Opinions and Memoranda,
October Terms 1953-1961
^ See Antonin Scalia, Constitutional Interpretation the Old Fashioned
Way (March 14, 2005).
^ Abraham Lincoln's Speech on the
Dred Scott Decision, June 26, 1857
Archived September 8, 2002, at the Wayback Machine..
^ Champion of Civil Rights: Judge John Minor Wisdom. Southern
Biography Series: LSU Press, 2009, p 24.
Retrieved December 4, 2012.
^ Charles Calomiris and Larry Schweikart, "The Panic of 1857: Origins,
Transmission, Containment," Journal of Economic History, LI, December
1990, pp. 807–34.
^ Speech to the United States Senate, May 7, 1860
^ Blassingame, John W. (15 September 2008). "Black New Orleans,
1860-1880". University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 8 August 2017 –
via Google Books.
^ Benson, Lloyd (editor). "The Issue Forced Upon Us". Secession Era
Editorials Project. Furman University. Retrieved 2008-06-17. CS1
maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
Don E. Fehrenbacher
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.
Dred Scott vs. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents —
^ Fehrenbacher, p. 580.
^ "Introduction to the court opinion on the
Dred Scott case". U.S.
Department of State. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
^ "Remarks of the Chief Justice". Supreme Court of the United States.
March 21, 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
^ Rehnquist, William. "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases"
Archived 2008-09-21 at the Wayback Machine..
^ Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833
^ 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
^ Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (1992).
^ 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
^ Arenson (2010),
Dred Scott Case, p. 38
^ Arenson (2010),
Dred Scott Case, p. 39
Dennis-Jonathan Mann & Kai Purnhagen: The Nature of Union
Citizenship between Autonomy and Dependency on (Member) State
Citizenship — A Comparative Analysis of the Rottmann Ruling,
or: How to Avoid a European
Dred Scott Decision?, in: 29:3 Wisconsin
International Law Journal (WILJ), (Fall 2011), pp. 484–533 (PDF).
Fehenbacher, Don E., The
Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American
Law and Politics New York: Oxford (1978) [winner of Pulitzer Prize for
Fehrenbacher, Don E. Slavery, Law, and Politics: The
Dred Scott Case
in Historical Perspective (1981) [abridged version of The Dred Scott
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
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.
Tushnet, Mark (2008). I Dissent: Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark
Supreme Court Cases. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 31–44.
Listen to: American Pendulum II —
Texts on Wikisource:
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott Case". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
Dred Scott Case". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857) is
Cornell Findlaw Justia Oyez OpenJurist
Primary documents and bibliography about the
Dred Scott case, from the
Library of Congress
Dred Scott decision", Encyclopædia Britannica 2006. Encyclopædia
Britannica Online. 17 December 2006. www.yowebsite.com
Gregory J. Wallance, "
Dred Scott Decision: The Lawsuit That Started
The Civil War", History.net, originally in Civil War Times Magazine,
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, National Park Service
Infography about the
Dred Scott Case
Dred Scott Case Collection, Washington University in St. Louis
Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on
Dred Scott case articles from William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist
newspaper The Liberator
"Supreme Court Landmark Case
Dred Scott v. Sandford" from C-SPAN's
Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Report of the Decision of the
Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States and
the Opinions of the Judges Thereof, in the Case of
Dred Scott Versus
John F.A. Sandford. December Term, 1856 via Google Books
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Seizure of United States Arsenal at Liberty
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Gen. Sterling Price, Missouri State Guard
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