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...
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