Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 31
Before the High Court

AFTER HUGH GARLAND’S death, a much more prominent St. Louis lawyer, Henry S. Geyer, took over representing Sanford in the appeal. (His services too were probably arranged by Benami Garland.)1 Sanford himself was planning another trip to Europe at the time.2 Geyer appears to have been more of an ideological choice than Garland’s cousin, Hugh. Henry Geyer had represented the state in defending mandatory licensing of free blacks challenged by Charles Lyons by arguing that Lyons had no privileges and immunities that were impinged by the law because he was not a citizen of Kentucky where he was born free.3 Geyer would similarly claim in the high court that the Scotts were not citizens. Geyer had recently defeated Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton for his Senate seat in the 1850 election. He agreed to argue the case without compensation,4 an incongruous gesture since his client was one of New York’s richest men. Former attorney general Reverdy Johnson was enlisted for Sanford as oral advocate before the nation’s high court. Reverdy Johnson had not only been U.S. attorney general in Taylor’s cabinet, but he had also represented the Chouteau family previously in land claims before the Supreme Court.5

Montgomery Blair, a former St. Louis judge who had resettled in Washington, D.C., was asked to represent the Scotts.6 Blair and Geyer stood on opposite sides of Missouri’s political factions, which had polarized since Geyer defeated Benton for the Senate.7 Blair did not appear willing to take the case initially. One person seeking to enlist him was Roswell Field, who had lost the Scotts’ case in federal court.8 But Roswell Field may not have been the only person urging Blair to become involved on the Scotts’ behalf. The Blair brothers were also friends of the Charlesses.9 In late 1855, at Roswell Field’s persistent urging, Blair agreed to represent the Scotts.10 It’s unlikely that Blair ever met his clients, or even encountered them, except perhaps in passing in the halls of the courthouse years earlier when he was a judge in the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas and, like Judge Hamilton, had heard other freedom cases.

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