Slavery in the U.S. and the Dred Scott Decision

Topics: Slavery in the United States, American Civil War, Compromise of 1850 Pages: 6 (2146 words) Published: December 11, 2012
America was founded by Europeans searching for freedom yet there was a class of people who were given no rights and could not enjoy the freedom granted to the majority of society in this new world. This became one of the most important and tragic issues in America. This dark period in America’s history is that of slavery. It was an issue that literally divided the country. There were many broad questions that were posed over this period not only to the legality of slavery but some also argued against slavery simply on moral grounds. Beginning in the late 18th century states in the north began to pass laws making slavery illegal. The southern states though held firmly to their perceived right to keep slaves. The debate over slavery would eventually tear the nation apart as states began to pass laws that conflicted with other state’s laws as well as federal laws. Many cases were brought into the courts that dealt with these many conflicts involved in these state’s positions. The leaders on the states would try over a long period of time to reduce the tensions in an effort to hold the union together but ultimately would fail. There was one case that is the most notable though as its decision would be the catalyst that would finally pave the way for pushing the country into a civil war that would forever change the country’s laws and finally give citizenship throughout the country to a part of the population that had been denied the basic rights afforded to everyone.

Slavery created a unique problem for the nation. Though slavery was abolished in the north slave owners in the south argued the importance of slavery for their state’s economic prosperity. One problem is the nation had nothing set forth in the constitution that could guide them to a national solution. The founding fathers had not only wished to create a strong country but also emphasized the importance of state’s sovereignty. It was this idea of state’s being responsible for their own decisions and laws that would be the basis of conflict in the debate for and against slavery. “While the drafters of the constitution agreed on the need to strengthen national authority, many were also ideologically committed to retaining the maximum degree of state autonomy consistent with the necessary functions of a federal government. Given this background it should not be surprising that the constitution of 1787 took no position on the basic institution of slavery. Generally, the question of slavery would involve the status of two inhabitants of the same state- the master and slave- and the legal import of the relationship between them.” As the 19th century began the anti-slavery movement in the north, and to a lesser extent in the south, began to grow. Questions began to be posed as to what extent should slaves or even former slaves be given rights. In some free states former slaves or their descendants born in these states were given most of the same rights as their fellow citizens such as the right to own property or businesses. Although they generally did not enjoy every right afforded to the white population it was completely different and adverse situation for the blacks living in the south who had nearly no rights at all and the slaves were at the mercy of their masters to dictate how they could spend their days.

Although slaves were considered property and not citizens, each state had a set of slave codes which were legal guidelines for the treatment of slaves. Most of these codes were created with the intention of keeping slaves docile and uneducated to restrict slave’s behavior and reduce the possibility of rebellion. Some of these codes though recognized slaves as more than just property as they restricted overly ill-treatment toward them. Masters were required “to treat them humanely, furnish them with adequate food, clothing, and shelter, and take care of them in sickness and old age.” These codes also outlined the legal punishments that were to be given to...
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