Dred Scott vs. Sanford


Dred Scott

Dred Scott was born around 1800, but his exact birthdate, like majority of slaves, is unknown. Peter Blow, Scott's master moved west to Virginia, then Alabama, and finally to St. Louis, Missouri in 1830. Sadly, Peter Blow died in 1832, therefore Dred Scott was bought by an army surgeon named Dr. John Emerson. However, Dred Scott did not know that this event would change his life forever. Dr. Emerson brought Scott to the free state of Illinois. During this time, a free state was where ex-slaves did not live in constant fear of being captured or tortured because legal slavery did not exist in these areas. In 1836, Dr. Emerson took Scot with him to live in the Wisconsin Territory, another anti-slavery location. This is where Dred Scott met his future wife, Harriet Robinson. When they were married, Robinson was still a slave to the local Wisconsin justice of peace, however, Dr. Emerson eventually bought the rights of ownership of Harriet. Since Dred Scott had lived in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin territory for a lengthy amount of time, he had the legal right to make a claim for his freedom. For reasons unknown, Dred Scott failed to officiate his freedom. Historians believe this was due to Scott's contentment with his owner, Dr. Emerson, or becuase Scott must have been unaware of this legal right. Unfortunately, Dr. Emerson died 1843, leaving behind a widow that sold the slave couple, Scott and Robinson, to an army captain of Dr. Emerson. Finally, Dred Scott sought for himself and his wife. He first tried to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson for $300 (a hefty price during the 1800's, especially for a slave). Since she refused Scott's offer, he was forced to take the matter of his freedom to the courts.


The Case

In June of 1847, after returning to Missouri, Scott sued unsuccessfully in Missouri courts for his wife's and his own freedom. His petitioning claim was that since he was a resident in not only one free territory, but two, this made him a free man. However, his first trial lost due to the technicality that he could not prove that he and his wife were owned by Mrs. Emerson. Eventually, Scott brought his law suit to the federal court, the United States Circuit Court in Missouri. In 1854, Scott appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. The Dred Scott Case was argued throughout February 11th to the 14th of 1856. The case was reargued between December 15th thru 18th in 1856. Little did Scott know that the nine justices of the court were already biased before the trial began. Seven out of the nine justices had been appointed to their official positions by presidents that supported the practice of slavery. Therefore, to keep their jobs, these justices had already decided that Scott could not be made a free man. Also, five out of the nine justices owned slave families. Before the case had even begun, there was little hope for Dred Scott. In federal courts, Scott made the claim that he and the defendent, Mrs.Emerson's brother, John Sanford, a resident of New York, were citizens from different states. This claim sparked the idea of how the biased justices were going to deny Scott and his wife their freedom.


The Verdict

The result of the case was decided by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, also known as the majority of the court, on Friday March 6th of 1857. Dred Scott was refused and denied of his freedom due to several examples of supporting documents and evidence given by the avid supporter of slavery, Taney. Taney stated that no pure-blooded Negro of African descent and descendent of slaves could be a citizen of the United States. This statement was supported by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Taney argued that only a citizen of the United States could be a citizen of the state. Only Congress had the right and power to confer national citizenship. Taney concluded that no one descended from an American slave had ever been considered a citizen under Article III. Therfore, Taney proves to the Court that Scott doesn't even have the right to sue since he isn't a citizen.

Cheif Justice Taney

Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was created to make Missouri a slave state within the slavery prohibiting Louisianna Territory. This compromise restricted slavery in certain territories. Taney, in hopes of ending resistence towards slavery once and for all, argued that the Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional. He supported this statement with the Property Clause of 1787. It states that Congress can not ban slavery in territories. He also used the Process Clause of the 5th Amendment to support his case. Taney states that this clause prohibits the federal government from freeing slaves that are brought into federal territories. This undermines the power of free states. Therefore, Taney convinced many people that ex-slaves or African Americans living in free states are still slaves and should be immediately returned to their owners. He obviously supported the same idea of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that enforced slaves to be returned to owners by any means possible.



Taney's decision concerning the Dred Scott Case was discovered quickly by majority of the United States population. The Southerners, who owned the most slave families, supported Taney's decision. However, the Northerners, who practiced anti-slavery were utterly outraged at the injustice shown by Taney in the case.


Nationalism/ Sectionalism

Nationalism is defined as patriotic feelings, principles, and efforts. It is pride in one's group or country. Throughout the Dred Scott case, northerners were so outraged by the outcome that they showed nationalism through their creation and formation of the Republican Party. The northerners joined together in the idea to make Abrahan Lincoln, an anit-slavery advocate, their leader. They greatly influenced, by mass voting, Lincoln's victory in the election.

Sectionalism is the dilike or disunity amongst groups. Sectionalism was shown in the United States throughout the time period of the Dred Scott case because due to Lincoln's nomination, Southerners succeeded from the Union. They wanted nothing to do with anti-slavery movements since they enjoyed the benefits of owning slave families. This disband of the Northern and Southern regions led to the United States Civil War.



A Happy Ending (Kind of)

Peter Blow, the original master of Dred Scott, had many sons. These sons were childhood friends of Scott. Throughout Scott's appeal for his and his wife's freedom, Peter Blow's sons payed all legal fees throughout the many years. After Taney's announcement of the Supreme Court's decision to deny Scott and his wife freedom, the sons took it upon themselves to buy Scott and his wife and set them free. Dred Scott was able to enjoy and celebrate in nine months of legal freedom before his untimely death.