The Dred Scott Decision (also known as 60 US 393) was a case fundamental in the United States’ history. The case was judged by no less than the highest court of America, the United States Supreme Court in 1857. The Dred Scott Decision implies that people of African descent could never be citizens of America regardless if they are slaves or not. In addition, the decision also ruled that slaves could not file a case or sue in court for the main reason that slaves were just properties of their masters hence they cannot be carried off from their masters without legal appeal (Gunderson).
The aforesaid decision was made by the then Chief Justice Roger Taney. The judgment favored the “border ruffians” during the Bleeding Kansas heated discussion who were troubled a free Kansas would be a shelter for fugitive slaves from Missouri (Skoq). It infuriated abolitionists. The divergence of the slavery dispute is regarded one of various elements that caused the occurrence of the American Civil War (Skoq). Some provisions and entries of this judgment discussing the rights and citizenships of African-Americans were unequivocally reversed by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
Background of the Case Dred Scott was a slave and procured by Dr. John Emerson in 1833. Emerson was a medical doctor in the American Army. He purchased Scott from Peter Blow who had possessed Scott conceivably since birth. Emerson worked for more than three years at Fort Armstrong, Illinois. Illinois was then established as a free state, and Scott was qualified to be liberated as prescribed by its constitution (Ewing). When Emerson moved in 1836 to Wisconsin territory (a free territory as declared by the Wisconsin Enabling Act and the Missouri Compromise, he brought Scott with him.
Scott was able to marry Harriet Robinson which was not available for them in the South. When Emerson transferred to Missouri in October 1837, he left Scott and latter’s wife for couple of months – which entails hiring them out. Nevertheless, such hiring out implied slavery yet slavery was not lawful by the Wisconsin Enabling Act, Northwest Ordinance, and the Missouri Compromise. After Emerson relocated at Louisiana in November 1837, he married Irene Marie Sanford in February of the same year and ordered Scott and its wife to follow them (Ewing).
The Scotts followed them and served as slaves for the Emerson family. When Emerson returned from a fight in Florida (the Seminole War), he went to the free territory of Iowa leaving the Scotts at St. Louis. But in December 1843, Emerson died suddenly. In effect, the Scotts served as slaves to the widow of Emerson, Irene Sanford Emerson for three years. However, in February 1846, Dred Scott tied to obtain his freedom from Madame Emerson, yet the latter declined it (Gunderson).
As a result, Scott filed a suit against Irene Emerson for his freedom saying that he had been in both in a free state as well as in a free territory thus he had already turned out to be lawfully free and could not be taken anymore as a slave. Trials of the Case The first trial favored Scott by means of technicality – for the reason that the defendant could not prove that Scott was a slave. When the judge issued the nest trial in December 1847, Irene Emerson petitioned the second trial to be done at the highest court of Missouri. However, even the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled in favor of Scott.
In the subsequent trial in January 1850, the jury also ruled against Emerson and declared that the Scotts were lawfully free (Ewing). Yet Emerson pleaded for another appeal to the Supreme Court of Missouri. This time around, Emerson took his brother John Sandford to represent her on court proceedings. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court of Missouri overturned the previous decision arguing that Scott was still considered a slave. According to some critics, the decision of the Supreme Court of Missouri was inconsistent with its previous rulings (Gunderson).
The former rulings held that when slaves were brought to free states, these slaves were instantly considered free. Hamilton Rowan Gamble, the then Chief Justice of the Missouri’s Supreme Court provided his nonconforming view on the case. Decision of the Supreme Court The Scott Case was brought to the United States Supreme Court for appeal. Prior to the pronouncement of the decision, the then President-elect James Buchanan asked his friend in the Court if it would be possible to made the decision before his inauguration (Ewing).
The decision was bequeathed on March 6, 1857. Court’s Chief Justice Taney expressed the decision of the Court, with each of the justices either supporting or opposing the decision. The summary of the votes said that six justices went with the decision while one (in the name of Samuel Nelson) agreed with the decision but not with the analysis of it. Yet two justices dissented it namely Curtis and McLean (Ewing). In February 14, 1857 (previous to the final decision), the Court convened for re-argument of the case.
Such re-argument sided with Sanford but devoid of other more important issues concerning the Negro citizenship and the consideration of the Missouri Compromise as unconstitutional. To present the opinion of the majority of the Justices, Justice Nelson was chosen to work out the decision. However, when Nelson finally presented the opinion, which was supposed to be the opinion of the majority, he found out that though he agreed on the decision, he had different basis for his judgment concerning the case. With that, he was thrown out and replaced by the then Chief Justice Roger Taney.
As the writer of the majority’s opinion, Taney include all aspects of the case including the Negro citizenship and the Missouri Compromise constitutionality. In the write-up done by Taney, he emphasized the role of citizenship in dealing with the case as well as in the formulation of the decision. According to him, among the rights of the citizens as declared by the U. S. was the citizen’s concession to file a lawsuit before the courts of the United States (Skoq). In this regard, only citizens of the United States, by the definition prescribed by the Constitution, have the right to sue charges in U. S. courts.
By this means, Negroes, even those who are considered as free Negroes, were not entitled to have such privilege of filing a case in court. Obviously, Scott, as a Negro, had no right to demand for a law suit. Thus, technically, the case should rule in favor of Sandford. In addition, Taney had also argued that Congress could not take away the rights of its state’s citizens to “life, liberty, or property” without legal means as how it was stated in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Ewing). Hence, making the Missouri Compromise declared as unconstitutional.
Furthermore, since Scott was a Negro and, by invalidating the Missouri Compromise, was a slave, he cannot demand for his freedom unless given by his master. And since his master refused his ask for freedom, he must continue to be his master’s slave for the reason that as slave he was regarded as his master’s property. And as stated in the Fifth Amendment, it cannot be enforced that properties of the U. S. citizens shall be taken away from them without legal means (Gunderson). The Constitution allowed no account of disparity between slaves and other sorts of property.
Taney contended that the Missouri Compromise divested “slaveholding citizens of their property in the form of slaves (Ewing). ” This made the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and must be discarded. The last hope of Scott also vanished when Taney declared that even if Scott was able to reside in the free states of Illinois, the fact that he demanded or filed the suit in a state which did not recognize the rights of the slaves as citizens of the United States then the law of that state would be employed and not the laws of the previous free states that he had previously resided (Gunderson).
Taney argued that the case must be discharged for insufficiency of jurisdiction and returned the case to the lower court instructing it to dismiss the case by the same arguments used by the Supreme Court consequently maintaining the ruling of the Supreme Court of Missouri which sided with Sanford. Works Cited Ewing, Elbert Williams. The Legal and Historical Status of the Dred Scott Decision. Confederate Reprint Company, 1999. Gunderson, Cory Gideon. The Dred Scott Decision. BDO & Daughters. 2004. Skoq, Jason. Dred Scott Decision (We the People: Civil War Era). Compass Point Books, 2006.
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