Dred Scott and the Dred Scott Case A. Background Information

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Dred Scott and the Dred Scott Case

A. Background Information: Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia in 1799. His owners moved twice – first to Alabama, then to Missouri (both slave states) – before selling him to Dr. John Emerson in 1830. Emerson traveled extensively with Scott in the state of Illinois and in the Wisconsin territory, where the Northwest Ordinance made slave illegal. Emerson died in 1842, and Scott’s new owner was Emerson’s brother-in-law, John Sandford.

In 1846, Scott sued for his and his wife Harriet’s freedom based on the fact that his previous owner had taken him into a free state and a free territory. The case went to trial several times with varying outcomes before it arrived at the Supreme Court in 1857. Scott lost his appeal to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that any person descended from black Africans, whether slave or free, was property, and not a citizen of the United States. Thus, they could not sue in federal court. Moreover, because slave owners had the right to their property, Congress could not pass laws restricting the spread of slavery – this overturned the Northwest Ordinance and Missouri Compromise.

Although Scott lost the ruling, he did manage to gain his freedom before his death. His owner Sanford was forced to enter an insane asylum, thus Scott was returned as property to Mr. Emerson’s widow, who had since married an abolitionist. They managed to free Scott on in May 1857, just months after the Supreme Court’s decision. Scott worked as a porter in St. Louis for less than nine months before he died from tuberculosis in September 1858. He was survived by his wife and his daughter Eliza Scott (born 1838).

  1. Arguments from the Dred Scott Case: For each of the arguments below, write F it suggests Scott should be free, S if it suggests he should remain a slave.


S or F?

1. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 outlawed slavery forever in certain areas. Dred Scott's owner took him to these free areas.

2. 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.

3. The Constitution does not say explicitly that blacks cannot be citizens.

4. Even before the Constitution, some states allowed blacks to vote

5. At the time of the Dred Scott case, women and minors could sue in federal court even though they could not vote.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 law-abiding citizens. Thus, Scott was always a slave in areas that were free.

9. 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.

Question: Which of the 9 arguments above do you think is most convincing? Why?


C. Newspapers’ Responses to the Dred Scott Decision: All of the quotations below are from newspapers in the month immediately following the Dred Scott decision. Complete the chart below and then answer the question that follows.

Location of Newspaper


Supports or Opposes Dred Scott Decision? (S or O)

Albany, NY

It is no novelty to find the Supreme Court following the lead of the Slavery Extension party, to which most of its members belong

Pittsburgh, PA

We cannot speak for the Republican party; but we feel free to say that it will spurn this decision

Cincinnati, OH

This is a complete vindication of the doctrine of the Nebraska Bill

Albany, NY

a new shackle for the North will be handed to the servile Supreme Court, to rivet upon us.

Albany, NY

The half million of men and women paralysed by the atheistic logic of the decision of the case of Dred Scott

Albany, NY

a blot upon our National character abroad, and a long-remembered shame at home.

New York, NY

auctions of black men may be held in front of Faneuil Hall

New York, NY

our liberties may be subverted, our rights trampled upon; the spirit of our institutions utterly disregarded

Charleston, SC

Slavery is guaranteed by the constitutional compact.

Richmond, VA

if they would let us alone and leave slavery to the states, and to the same protection and privileges enjoyed by all other property under the Constitution, the agitation of the question would come to an end on the instant.

Albany, NY

Five of its nine silk gowns are worn by Slaveholders.

Columbus, WI

It strikes at the very vitals of our free institutions

Question: One might assume that northern newspapers would oppose the decision and southern newspapers would support it. Based upon the evidence above, is this a good assumption?

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