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The Dred Scott Essay

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The Dred Scott Decision of 1857 ruled that African-Americans, even ones who were not enslaved, were not protected under The Constitution and could never be citizens. This brings up questions that will be answered in this paper. Should slaves be American citizens? Is it morally correct for one to own another human? Does the Dred Scott decision contradict The Declaration of Independence which states that every man is created equal? Who was Dred Scott? Dred Scott was born in Virginia about 1799 of the Peter Blow family.

He had spent his entire life as a slave.

Dred Scott moved to St. Louis with the Blows in 1830, but was soon sold due to his master’s financial problems. He was purchased by Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon, and accompanied him to posts in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory, where slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. During this period, Dred Scott married Harriet Robinson, also a slave and they later had two children, Eliza and Lizzie.

John Emerson married Irene Sanford during a brief stay in Louisiana.

In 1842, the Scotts returned with Dr. and Mrs. Emerson in St. Louis. John Emerson died the following year, and it is believed that Mrs. Emerson hired out Dred Scott, Harriet, and their children to work for other families. In 1846 Dred Scott and his wife filed suit against Irene Emerson for their freedom. It is not known for sure why he chose to file the suit, but historians first believed either he may have been dissatisfied with being hired out or Mrs. Emerson might have been planning to sell him.

It was later learned that he had attempted to purchase his own freedom, but was refused. 1) At that time Missouri courts supported the doctrine of “once free, always free. ” Dred Scott could not read or write and had no money and it is believed that his original owners, the Blow family, backed him financially. His first trial in state court ended in Scott losing his case on a technicality. The second trial was held in federal court and again Scott lost. For the historical record Dred Scott v. Sandford is one of the very first historical civil rights opinions handed down by the U. S. Supreme Court.

This ruling showed how the political and social beliefs of court members influenced their decisions. Because it occurred in the 19th century many people are unaware of the role this ruling played in the history of constitutional debate. While Plessy v. Ferguson set the tone for legalized segregation and Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas eradicated segregation, the Dred Scott case showed how flawed interpretations of the U. S. Constitution denied blacks full citizenship rights.

The two trials of Dred Scott in 1847 and 1850 were the beginning of a frenetic series of events which concluded with a U. S. Supreme Court. Some scholars also believe it speeded up the start of the Civil War. According to some historians, President James Buchanan wanted the slave issue settled before his inauguration. On March 6, 1857, the U. S. Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared that all blacks were not and could never become citizens of the United States. This was two days before President Buchanan’s inauguration. Chief Justice Taney was a staunch supporter of slavery and led the court in voting a 7-2 decision.

The ruling also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. This meant that slavery was permissible in all of the country’s territories. Taney wrote in the majority opinion that because Dred Scott was black, he was not a citizen and legally had no right to sue. His belief was that the Founding Fathers believed that blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the blacks should be kept in slavery for their benefit. He believed that blacks could be bought and sold and treated as property.

He opined that the Declaration of Independence’s phrase “all men are created equal,” was never intended to include black people. (2) Horace Greeley wrote that the decision “carried as much moral weight as a majority vote in any Washington bar room. ” He further stated that ruling was “southern sophism cloaked with the dignity of our highest court. ” According to Greeley, the ruling was a collection of “false statements and shallow sophistries” put together to support a foregone conclusion, and a “fatal blow to the rights and liberties of all. (3)

The first question is whether or not slaves should have been citizens of the United States? That is a difficult question to answer because citizenship means being able to participate in the process of decision making and the obtaining of rights. Slaves, because they were owned, couldn’t be true citizens because they were denied the basic duties gifts of citizenship. A citizen has freedom to vote, make choices on where they want to live and how to raise their family. The slave had no such right, so being a citizen was impossible.

The Three-Fifths Compromise of the Constitution was an agreement between Southern and Northern states in which three-fifths of the population of slaves would be counted for representation purposes for the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of the members of the United States House of Representatives. Those who opposed slavery generally wished to count only the free inhabitants of each state. Those who supported slavery wanted to count slaves in their actual numbers. The so-called compromise of counting “all other persons” as only three-fifths was for the benefit of Southern power and not human rights.

A person can’t really be a citizen without all the benefits afforded all others under the law. The second question raised was whether or not it was moral for one person to own another person. That answer is simply no. Although some forms of slavery have existed in most cultures throughout history it is still immoral. Most people agree that slavery is immoral. But what makes it so? Slavery denies a person the right to use his body and the fruits of his labor as he sees fit. It forcibly uses one person to serve the purposes of another.

Ownership of human beings by other human beings regardless of their skin color diminishes that person to property. Property that could be bought, sold, traded or bartered without any consideration of the person who was owned. The American practice of slavery showed that what was lawful may not always necessarily be moral and ethical. There was nothing morally right or ethically acceptable about slavery in America because it dehumanized people for profit. Slave owners benefited from free labor and maintained vast wealth and holdings at the expense of slaves.

Some suggest that slavery in America actually benefited blacks by bringing them to America and eventually enhancing their way of life, however the means doesn’t justify ends. The third question of whether or not the Dred Scott Decision contradicts the Declaration of Independence is easily answerable. Yes, it does. The Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal. ” Thomas Jefferson was clearly making the point that in America all men must be considered equal under the law and under God, as well. Jefferson was writing to establish separation from the King of England, but he was also stressing the importance of freedom.

And in order for all men to be free they had to have the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ” Slaves were denied all three. Their life was at the control of another and their existence was totally constricted by rules and customs that forbid them from achieving even the most basic level of dignity. There was no liberty since they were constrained to the rule others and had no self-autonomy. And there was certainly no pursuit of happiness because there can be no real happiness without freedom.

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