Historic Supreme Court Cases: Focus on the Dred Scott Case



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U.S. History

Historic Supreme Court Cases:

Focus on the Dred Scott Case
On March 6, 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the Dred Scott case, one of the most important cases in the court’s history. Scott, a man who was born into slavery, lived most of his life in Missouri, a state where slavery was legal. Dr. James Emerson, the man who “owned” Scott & his wife, was in the U.S. Army. Dr. Emerson’s job required him to travel frequently. Dred Scott & his wife lived for extended periods of time in Illinois and Wisconsin, states were slavery was illegal. In 1842, the Scott family and Dr. Emerson returned to Missouri. Later that year, Dr. Emerson died. Dred Scott offered to buy his freedom from Emerson’s widow, but she refused. Scott, with the help of a local lawyer, decided to sue Mrs. Emerson for his freedom. In 1847, Scott lost his first case, but appealed the decision. Three years later, a Missouri jury decided that Scott should be freed because he had been held illegally while living in the free states of Illinois & Wisconsin. Emerson’s widow appealed that decision and the case eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Listed below you will find actual excerpts from the official Supreme Court decision, released in 1857. Read and paraphrase each of the court’s rulings in this very important case.

U.S. Supreme Court

Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 19 How. 393 393 (1856)


Scott v. Sandford

60 U.S. (19 How.) 393

4. A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
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Glossary

regarded (v): viewed, thought of

constituted (v): made up of, composed

immunities (n): privileges

suit (n): legal case
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5. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its "people or citizens." Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being "citizens" within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit.

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Glossary

clauses (n): an article, a part of a document

construed (v): to cite as an example or explain the meaning of
6. The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves…
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9. The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.

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The Constitution of the United States recognises slaves as property, and pledges the Federal Government to protect it. And Congress cannot exercise any more authority over property of that description than it may constitutionally exercise over property of any other kind.

As you now know, the Supreme Court ruled against Scott and denied him and his family the freedom they were seeking. Based on your understanding of the Court’s ruling, would this case just affect Scott (and his family) or would this case affect other people in the United States? Explain your answering using evidence from the court report.


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How might this case affect other people in the United States? Explain. __________________________

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Name: U.S. History

Date:


Core:

Dred Scott Case Assessment

Directions: Use the paraphrase of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Scott v. Sanford (1857) to answer the multiple choice question below. Circle the one best answer and then explain why your answer is correct using primary source evidence to support your response (ATIC).
Which of the following can be supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case?

  1. Only free African-Americans had the right to use the court system, those who were enslaved did not possess that right.

  2. After his freedom was purchased, Frederick Douglass was not considered to be a citizen of the United States.

  3. The courts must treat all human beings, regardless of their race, as human beings.



(A)nswer: Restate which answer choice would be supported by the Supreme Court’s decision

(T)ext: Provide a direct quote from the primary source document to support your answer

(I)nference: Explain the meaning of the quote and explain how it supports your answer choice

(C)onclusion: Wrap it up.
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