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 ... page 2

In the year 1838, said Dr. Emerson removed the plaintiff and said Harriet, and their said daughter Eliza, from said Fort Snelling to the State of Missouri, where they have ever since resided.

Before the commencement of this suit, said Dr. Emerson sold and conveyed the plaintiff, said Harriet, Eliza, and Lizzie, to the defendant, as slaves, and the defendant has ever since claimed to hold them and each of them as slaves.

At the times mentioned in the plaintiff's declaration, the defendant, claiming to be owner as aforesaid, laid his hands upon said plaintiff, Harriet, Eliza, and Lizzie, and imprisoned them, doing in this respect, however, no more than what he might lawfully do if they were of right his slaves at such times.

Further proof may be given on the trial for either party.

R. M. FIELD, for Plaintiff

H. A. GARLAND, for Defendant.

It is agreed that Dred Scott brought suit for his freedom in the Circuit Court of St. Louis county that there was a verdict and judgment in his favor that on a writ of error to the Supreme Court, the judgment below was reversed, and the [p472] cause remanded to the Circuit Court, where it has been continued to await the decision of this case.

FIELD, for Plaintiff

GARLAND, for Defendant

Upon the aforegoing agreed facts, the plaintiff prayed the court to instruct the jury that they ought to find for the plaintiff, and upon the refusal of the instruction thus prayed for, the plaintiff excepted to the court's opinion. The court then, upon the prayer of the defendant, instructed the jury that upon the facts of this case agreed as above, the law was with the defendant. To this opinion also the plaintiff's counsel excepted, as he did to the opinion of the court denying to the plaintiff a new trial after the verdict of the jury in favor of the defendant.

The question first in order presented by the record in this cause is that which arises upon the plea in abatement, and the demurrer to that plea, and upon this question, it is my opinion that the demurrer should have been overruled, and the plea sustained.

On behalf of the plaintiff, it has been urged that by the pleas interposed in bar of a recovery in the court below (which pleas both in fact and in law are essentially the same with the objections averred in abatement), the defence in abatement has been displaced or waived that it could therefore no longer be relied on in the Circuit Court, and cannot claim the consideration of this court in reviewing this cause. This position is regarded as wholly untenable. On the contrary, it would seem to follow conclusively from the peculiar character of the courts of the United States, as organized under the Constitution and the statutes, and as defined by numerous and unvarying adjudications from this bench, that there is not one of those courts whose jurisdiction and powers can be deduced from mere custom or tradition, not one whose jurisdiction and powers must not be traced palpably to, and invested exclusively by, the Constitution and statutes of the United States, not one that is not bound, therefore, at all times, and at all stages of its proceedings, to look to and to regard the special and declared extent and bounds of its commission and authority. There is no such tribunal of the United States as a court of general jurisdiction, in the sense in which that phrase is applied to the superior courts under the common law, and even with respect to the courts existing under that system, it is a well settled principle that consent can never give jurisdiction.

The principles above stated, and the consequences regularly deducible from them, have, as already remarked, been repeatedly [p473] and unvaryingly propounded from this bench. Beginning with the earliest decisions of this court, we have the cases of Bingham v. Cabot et al., 3 Dallas 382, Turner v. Eurille, 4 Dallas 7, Abercrombie v. Dupuis et al., 1 Cranch 343, Wood v. Wagnon, 2 Cranch 9, The United States v. The brig Union et al., 4 Cranch 216, Sullivan v. The Fulton Steamboat Company, 6 Wheaton 450, Mollan et al. v. Torrence, 9 Wheaton 537, Brown v. Keene, 8 Peters 112, and Jackson v. Ashton, 8 Peters 148, ruling, in uniform and unbroken current, the doctrine that it is essential to the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States that the facts upon which it is founded should appear upon the record. Nay, to such an extent and so inflexibly has this requisite to the jurisdiction been enforced that in the case of Capron v. Van Noorden, 2 Cranch 126, it is declared that the plaintiff in this court may assign for error his own omission in the pleadings in the court below where they go to the jurisdiction. This doctrine has been, if possible, more strikingly illustrated in a later decision, the case of The State of Rhode Island v. The State of Massachusetts, in the 12th of Peters.

In this case, on page 718 of the volume, this court, with reference to a motion to dismiss the cause for want of jurisdiction, have said: ... more on Judge Daniel's decision in the Dred Scott case

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