Landmark Case of the Supreme Court Dred Scott v. Sandford Background Summary & Questions

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1 Background Summary & Questions Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia around In 1830, Scott and his master moved to Missouri, which was a slave state. Four years later, a surgeon in the U.S. army named Dr. John Emerson bought Scott and moved him to the free state of Illinois. In 1836, Scott and Emerson moved to Fort Snelling, Wisconsin Territory. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in this territory. That same year, Scott married a slave named Harriet. In 1838, the Emersons and the Scotts moved back to Missouri where the Scotts had two daughters. Emerson died in 1843 and left his possessions, including the Scotts, to his widow Irene. In 1846, Scott asked Mrs. Emerson if he could work for his freedom. According to Scott, she refused. Scott sued Mrs. Emerson for "false imprisonment" and battery. Scott argued that he was being held illegally because he had become a free man as soon as he had lived in a free state. He claimed he was taken to a slave state against his will. Many slaves had sued their owners in this way and won their freedom in the past. In 1847, Emerson won in the Missouri Circuit court because Scott's lawyers failed to prove that she was holding Scott as a slave. Scott's lawyers successfully argued for a new trial. By the time the new case went to trial in 1850, Emerson had moved to Massachusetts leaving her brother, John Sanford, in charge of Scott's case. The jury agreed that Scott and his family should be freed in accordance with the doctrine "once free, always free." The case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852, where two of the three judges found for Emerson and Sanford. William Scott wrote the decision of the court, stating that states have the power to refuse to enforce the laws of other states. Sanford was legally recognized as Scott's owner in Sanford moved to New York leaving the Scotts in Missouri. Scott filed a new lawsuit in federal court (the other suits had been in state court). Federal courts settle disputes between citizens of different states. A clerk mistakenly added a letter to Sanford's name, so the case permanently became Dred Scott v. John F.A. Sandford. In 1854, the U.S. Court for the District of Missouri heard the case. John Sanford argued in this federal lawsuit that Dred Scott could not sue because he was not a citizen. Judge Wells did not accept this argument, but he did instruct the jury to apply only the laws of Missouri in its decision. The jury found in favor of Sanford. Dred Scott then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Unfortunately for Scott, the political divisions over slavery worsened from the time his case first came to trial in 1847 through 1857, when the Court finally announced its decision. Events of this period that increased conflicts included the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), enactment of The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), violence in "bleeding Kansas" (1856), and Representative Brooks's battery of Senator Sumner in the U.S. Senate (1856). Like almost all people of their time, the justices had strong personal views about slavery. One justice, Peter V. Daniel of Virginia, supported slavery so much that he even refused to travel north of the Mason-Dixon line into a free state. Some historians believe that Chief Justice Taney hoped that his decision in the Dred Scott case would help prevent, not create future disputes over slavery. Answer the following Questions: 1

2 1. Why did Dred Scott sue Emerson? What was his goal? 2. Summarize the basic argument made by Scott's lawyers in the Missouri Circuit Court (the state court). Did Dred Scott have reason to believe that he would win his case? 3. How do you think the political divisions over slavery affected Dred Scott's chances of winning his case? Using whatever resources you need, define the following two legal concepts which are important in understanding. Remember to cite information that you take from another source. 4. Equal Protection 5. Due Process Classifying Arguments in the Case The following is a list of arguments used in. Read through each argument and decide whether it supports Dred Scott's side in favor of his freedom (DS), Sanford's position in favor of Scott's continued slavery (SAN), both sides (BOTH), or neither side (N). Label each argument next to the number. 6. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 outlawed slavery forever in certain areas. Dred Scott's owner took him to these free areas. Thus, Scott became free forever. 7. Dred Scott is not a citizen because if he were he would be entitled to all of the privileges and immunities of a citizen, one of which is the right of free movement. It is clear that the laws governing slavery do not permit this, thus he cannot be a citizen. 8. Even before the Constitution, some states allowed blacks to vote. The Constitution does not say explicitly that blacks cannot be citizens. 9. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Neither Congress nor states can pass laws that conflict with the Constitution. 10. It was law in many states and had been common law in Europe for centuries that a slave who legally traveled to a free area automatically became free. 11. In the case of Strader v. Graham (1850), the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case of three slaves who had been taken from Kentucky to Indiana and Ohio and then back to Kentucky. The Court declared that the status of the slave depended on the laws of Kentucky, not Ohio. 12. In 1865, the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution making slavery illegal. 13. The Constitution recognized the existence of slavery. Therefore, the men who framed and ratified the Constitution must have believed that slaves and their descendants were not to be citizens. 14. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 that outlawed slavery in some future states was unconstitutional because Congress does not have the authority to deny property rights of lawabiding citizens. Thus, Scott was always a slave in areas that were free. 15. At the time of the Dred Scott case, women and minors could sue in federal court even though they could not vote. 2

3 THE POLITICAL QUADRILLE. MUSIC BY DRED SCOTT Published by Rickey, Mallory & Company, Cincinnati, Figures left to right clockwise: John C. Breckinridge dances with James Buchanan. Dred Scott seated plays the violin. Lincoln dances with African American woman. John Bell dances with Native American. Stephen Douglas dances with a sovereign in rags. Analyze the political cartoon on the previous page (from the Lilly Library, Indiana University) and answer these questions. 16. What do you see in the cartoon? Make a list. Include objects, people, and any characteristics that seem to be exaggerated. 17. Which of the items on the list from Question 1 are symbols? What does each symbol stand for? 18. What is happening in the cartoon? 19. What is the cartoonist's message? 20. Do you agree or disagree with the cartoonist's message? Explain your answer. 21. This cartoonist has a particular point of view about the impact of the Court s Dred Scott decision on the election of Use your imagination and predict what a cartoonist would draw who held the opposite point of view about the case. What might his or her message be? What 3

4 images, symbols, and words would he or she use? Now draw a sketch of what an opposing cartoonist might draw. This exercise was adapted from a worksheet designed and developed by the education staff at the National Archives and Records Administration. Abraham Lincoln s Speech About the Dred Scott Decision, 1857 Go to TeachingAmericanHistory.org to find a copy of the speech that Abraham Lincoln gave in Springfield, Illinois shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Dred Scott case. As you read his speech*, create an outline of the reasons Lincoln gives for his view that the decision is erroneous. Outline his objections to the dissenting opinion and his views about the separation of the races as well. When you finish the outline, write a short essay that summarizes Lincoln s views and your own views on the decision. Which of Lincoln s arguments, if any, did you find most persuasive? Which of Lincoln s arguments, if any, do you find objectionable? Support your opinions with reasons and, whenever possible, use specific phrases from the speech to illustrate your points. * Note: You will notice that before Lincoln speaks about the Dred Scott decision, he talks about what was happening in Utah and in Kansas at the time. You should read these paragraphs to get a better understanding of the context in which the decision was issued and Lincoln s views, but you do not have to outline this section. Summary of the Decision In a 7-2 opinion, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sanford.* Chief Justice Taney wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court first decided that African Americans were not citizens as defined by the Constitution. They then considered the merits of the case, ruling that slaves did not become free simply by entering a free state or a territory that had not yet become a state. This overturned the ruling of the lower federal court, but affirmed the ruling of the Missouri Supreme Court. The Supreme Court first concluded that African Americans were not citizens as defined by the Constitution, and therefore, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts had no jurisdiction to hear this case. The decision cited Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution which gives federal courts the power to hear cases between Citizens of different States. To determine the definition of citizens, the justices considered the intent of the framers of the Constitution. They noted that at the time the Constitution was written, people of African descent, both slave and free, were regarded as beings of an inferior order and were so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. Believing that the Court should not give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted, the Court 4

5 concluded that people of African descent were not citizens, and could therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. This included the ability to bring suit in federal court. Even though the Court determined that it did not have jurisdiction to hear this case because it did not involve Citizens of different States, the justices ruled on the merits of case anyway. They first argued that the power of Congress to regulate the internal workings of the territories that had not yet become states was limited. They concluded that an act of Congress prohibiting citizens from owning [slaves] in the territor[ies] is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void. The Court thereby struck down the Missouri Compromise as unconstitutional because Congress did not have the power under the Constitution to determine whether slavery was allowed in the territories, even those these were not states. In addition, the Court concluded that slaves could not be made free simply by entering a free state or territory. This would deprive slave owners of their property without giving them due process of law as required by the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, an act of Congress which deprives a citizen of the United States of his property, merely because he brought his property into a particular Territory of the United States was unconstitutional. The Court held, therefore, that Dred Scott and his family were property and were not made free simply by virtue of the fact that they were brought into a free territory. 22. Briefly, in paragraph form, what do you think about the decision of the Supreme Court? Do you agree or disagree? Explain your response. 5

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