What was the Dred Scott case?

Dred Scott v. Sandford,[1] 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), commonly referred to as The Dred Scott Decision, was a decision by the United States Supreme Court that ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants[2]—whether or not they were slaves—were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. It also held that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. The Court also ruled that because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Lastly, the Court ruled that slaves—as chattel or private property—could not be taken away from their owners without due process. The Supreme Court's decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Although Dred Scott was never overruled by the Supreme Court itself, in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1873 the Court stated that at least one part of it had already been overruled in 1868 by the Fourteenth Amendment:

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

Dred Scott, Plantiff In Error v. John F. A. Sandford

Supreme Court of the United States
60 U.S. 393 (How.)
Argued : February 11 – 14, 1856, February 15 – 18, 1856
Decided : March 6, 1857

Decision written by Associate Justice Peter Vivian Daniel

It may with truth be affirmed that since the establishment of the several communities now constituting the States of this Confederacy, there never has been submitted to any tribunal within its limits questions surpassing in importance those now claiming the consideration of this court. Indeed it is difficult to imagine, in connection with the systems of polity peculiar to the United States, a conjuncture of graver import than that must be, within which it is aimed to comprise and to control not only the faculties and practical operation appropriate to the American Confederacy as such, but also the rights and powers of its separate and independent members, with reference alike to their internal and domestic authority and interests and the relations they sustain to their confederates.

To my mind it is evident that nothing less than the ambitious and far-reaching pretension to compass these objects of vital concern is either directly essayed or necessarily implied in the positions attempted in the argument for the plaintiff in error.

How far these positions have any foundation in the nature of the rights and relations of separate, equal, and independent Governments, or in the provisions of our own Federal compact, or the laws enacted under and in pursuance of the authority of that compact will be presently investigated.

In order correctly to comprehend the tendency and force of those positions, it is proper here succinctly to advert to the [p470] facts upon which the questions of law propounded in the argument have arisen.

This was an action of trespass vi et armis instituted in the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Missouri, in the name of the plaintiff in error, a negro held as a slave, for the recovery of freedom for himself, his wife, and two children, also negroes.

To the declaration in this case the defendant below, who is also the defendant in error, pleaded in abatement that the court could not take cognizance of the cause because the plaintiff was not a citizen of the State of Missouri, as averred in the declaration, but was a negro of African descent, and that his ancestors were of pure African blood, and were brought into this country and sold as negro slaves, and hence it followed, from the second section of the third article of the Constitution, which creates the judicial power of the United States with respect to controversies between citizens of different States that the Circuit Court could not take cognizance of the action.

To this plea in abatement, a demurrer having been interposed on behalf of the plaintiff, it was sustained by the court. After the decision sustaining the demurrer, the defendant, in pursuance of a previous agreement between counsel, and with the leave of the court, pleaded in bar of the action: 1st, not guilty, 2dly that the plaintiff was a negro slave, the lawful property of the defendant, and as such the defendant gently laid his hands upon him, and thereby had only restrained him, as the defendant had a right to do, 3dly that with respect to the wife and daughters of the plaintiff, in the second and third counts of the declaration mentioned, the defendant had, as to them, only acted in the same manner, and in virtue of the same legal right.

Issues having been joined upon the above pleas in bar, the following statement, comprising all the evidence in the cause, was agreed upon and signed by the counsel of the respective parties, viz:

In the year 1834, the plaintiff was a negro slave belonging to Doctor Emerson, who was a surgeon in the army of the United States. In that year, 1834, said Dr. Emerson took the plaintiff from the State of Missouri to the military post at Rock Island, in the State of Illinois, and held him there as a slave until the month of April or May, 1836. At the time last mentioned, said Dr. Emerson removed the plaintiff from said military post at Rock Island to the military post at Fort Snelling, situate on the west bank of the Mississippi river in the Territory known as Upper Louisiana, acquired by the United States of France, and situate north of the latitude of thirty-six [p471] degrees thirty minutes north, and north of the State of Missouri. Said Dr. Emerson held the plaintiff in slavery at said Fort Snelling from said last-mentioned date until the year 1838.

In the year 1835, Harriet, who is named in the second count of the plaintiff's declaration, was the negro slave of Major Taliaferro, who belonged to the army of the United States. In that year, 1835, said Major Taliaferro took said Harriet to said Fort Snelling, a military post situated as hereinbefore stated, and kept her there as a slave until the year 1836, and then sold and delivered her as a slave at said Fort Snelling unto the said Dr. Emerson, hereinbefore named. Said Dr. Emerson held said Harriet in slavery at said Fort Snelling until the year 1838.

In the year 1836, the plaintiff and said Harriet, at said Fort Snelling, with the consent of said Dr. Emerson, who then claimed to be their master and owner, intermarried and took each other for husband and wife. Eliza and Lizzie, named in the third count of the plaintiff's declaration, are the fruit of that marriage. Eliza is about fourteen years old, and was born on board the steamboat Gipsey, north of the north line of the State of Missouri, and upon the river Mississippi. Lizzie is about seven years old, and was born in the State of Missouri, at a military post called Jefferson barracks. ... more on Judge Daniel's decision in the Dred Scott case

Biography of Associate Justice Peter Vivian Daniel

Associate Justice Peter Vivian Daniel who wrote the separate but concurring opinion in the Dred Scott case

Peter Vivian Daniel
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office: March 3, 1841[1] – May 31, 1860
Nominated by: Martin Van Buren
Preceded by: Philip Pendleton Barbour
Born: April 24, 1784 Stafford County, Virginia
Died: May 31, 1860 (aged 76) Richmond, Virginia
Religion Episcopalian

Peter Vivian Daniel (April 24, 1784 – May 31, 1860) was an American jurist.

Daniel was born in Stafford County, Virginia, in 1784 to a family of old colonial heritage. He was educated at home, and attended the College of New Jersey for one year before returning to Virginia. He read law under former Attorney General of the United States Edmund Randolph in Richmond, and was admitted to the bar in 1808. Daniel married Randolph's daughter. " ... more at Wikipedia.

About the Dred Scott Case

In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that Scott remain a slave. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War.

The records displayed in this exhibit document the Scotts' early struggle to gain their freedom through litigation and are the only extant records of this significant case as it was heard in the St. Louis Circuit Court. ... More on the Dred Scott case from Washington University in St.Louis.

Contemporary newspaper accounts on the Dred Scott case

The Conspiracy against Freedom
Evening Journal [Republican]Albany, New York
(11 March 1857)

The Oligarchy who breed men and women for the market and make unceasing war on free labor, laid broad the foundations of their conspiracy against Liberty, in the convention which nominated Buchanan for the Presidency. They planned to inaugurate on the 4th of March, 1857, a Federal combination of influences in behalf of Slavery, that should include the Executive power, the Legislative power and the Judicial power of the Republic. Through the patronage of the President they calculated upon corrupting and enlisting an army of ambitious and energetic spirits in the Free States. Though the 35th Congress they counted surely on legislation that should expand Slavery and contract Freedom. Through the Supreme Court of the United States they reckoned, with audacious cunning, on a conquest of all the subordinate courts of Law in the law-abiding North -- on a conquest of the vast body of Northern lawyers trained by their profession to yield obedience and respect to the final decisions of the judiciary, and educated all of them into a veneration of that high court over which Marshall presided and in which Story was a justice -- counted on a conquest of the great body of the Northern people, through their habit of submission to law and to public authority. To this end the appeal of the case of Dred Scott had been prepared. Its decision was certain and ready long and long ago. But its influence was wanted for the inauguration of the new pro-slavery administration of James Buchanan. So the formal delay of a re-argument was gone through with. The case was ready again for decision and publicity. But a Republican House of Representatives was in session. The horrible wrong inflicted through the person of Dred Scott upon half a million of free colored citizens, and the great crime against Freedom and Humanity enveloped in the denial of this black man's petition for his unquestionable rights, would inevitably have fired them to indignation and protest. Their denunciation of the Supreme Court was to be avoided by all means, and their hostility to the legislation necessary to the South and to the incoming Administration, was especially to be avoided. So the decision was withheld till Congress adjourned. Then it came.

The army of "Democratic" applicants for office came with it, and of course came under it as a yoke, as was anticipated. The army of the present "Democratic" incumbents of office, hopeful of reappointment, accept the decision as the highest expression of law and equity. Editorial slaves din into the shocked ear of the public their lying sophistries to persuade that a decision which nationalizes Human Bondage, and disfranchises citizens of African descent, is a sacred one. But in vain is it all. The People stand angry and implacable in front of this giant judicial iniquity. No shaking of old ermines, nor fluttering of moth-eaten silk gowns, nor invocation of the shades of Marshall, Jay, Ellsworth and Story -- no extent of snivel and cant about the purity of the Federal Judiciary, and the obligation to put up with false law and falser equity, will avail at all to persuade the people of the Free States that Slavery has unrestricted rights in the Public Domain, and neither Freedom nor Congress has any opposing rights therein -- that people of African descent can no be citizens of the United States -- and that men and women can lawfully be held in slavery on Free Soil. No, the People will from the hour of this Dred decision, unintermittingly roll back this mixed Conspiracy, till through a recovered and reorganized Federal Judiciary and a republicanized Executive, they can administer justice and good government in the whole nation.

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