Dred Scott Case

Dred Scott Case, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1856–57. It involved the then bitterly contested issue of the status of slavery in the federal territories. In 1834, Dred Scott, a black slave, personal servant to Dr. John Emerson, a U.S. army surgeon, was taken by his master from Missouri, a slave state, to Illinois, a free state, and thence to Fort Snelling (now in Minnesota) in Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. There he married before returning with Dr. Emerson to Missouri in 1838. After Emerson's death, Scott sued (1846) Emerson's widow for freedom for himself and his family (he had two children) on the ground that residence in a free state and then in a free territory had ended his bondage. He won his suit before a lower court in St. Louis, but the Missouri supreme court reversed the decision (thus reversing its own precedents). Scott's lawyers then maneuvered the case into the federal courts. Since J. F. A. Sanford, Mrs. Emerson's brother, was the legal administrator of her property and a resident of New York, the federal court accepted jurisdiction for the case on the basis of diversity of state citizenship. After a federal district court decided against Scott, the case came on appeal to the Supreme Court. In Feb., 1857, the court decided in conference to avoid completely the question of the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise and to rule against Scott on the ground that under Missouri law as now interpreted by the supreme court of that state he remained a slave despite his previous residence in free territory. However, when it became known that two antislavery justices, John McLean and Benjamin R. Curtis, planned to write dissenting opinions vigorously upholding the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise (which had, in fact, been voided by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854), the court's Southern members, constituting the majority, decided to consider the whole question of federal power over slavery in the territories. They decided in the case of Scott v. Sandford (the name was misspelled in the formal reports) that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories, and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the court's opinion that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Three of the justices also held that a black "whose ancestors were … sold as slaves" was not entitled to the rights of a federal citizen and therefore had no standing in court. The court's verdict further inflamed the sectional controversy between North and South and was roundly denounced by the growing antislavery group in the North.

See V. C. Hopkins, Dred Scott's Case (1951, repr. 1967); S. I. Kutler, ed., The Dred Scott Decision (1967); F. B. Latham, The Dred Scott Decision (1968).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Dred Scott Case: Selected full-text books and articles

History of Black Americans: From the Compromise of 1850 to the End of the Civil War By Philip S. Foner Greenwood Press, 1983
Librarian's tip: Chap. 12 "The Dred Scott Case, Its Repercussions, and the Election of 1858"
Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process By A. Leon Higginbotham Jr Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "Dred Scott v. Sandford: The Legal Defense of Inferiority" begins on p. 61
The Limits of Judicial Power: The Supreme Court in American Politics By William Lasser University of North Carolina Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: Chap. II "The Dred Scott Case"
America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink By Kenneth M. Stampp Oxford University Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "The President, the Chief Justice, and a Slave Named Scott"
Desperately Ducking Slavery: Dred Scott and Contemporary Constitutional Theory By Graber, Mark A Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer 1997
Ducking Dred Scott: A Response to Alexander and Schauer By Sherwin, Emily Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1998
The Political Economy of Blackness: Citizenship, Corporations, and Race in Dred Scott By Allen, Austin Civil War History, Vol. 50, No. 3, September 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Mrs. Dred Scott By VanderVelde, Lea; Subramanian, Sandhya The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 4, January 1997
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era By James M. McPherson Oxford University Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: Discussion of the Dred Scott case begins on p. 170
A History of the South, 1607-1936 By William B. Hesseltine Prentice-Hall, 1936
Librarian's tip: "The Dred Scott Decision" begins on p. 408
Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings By Abraham Lincoln; Roy P. Basler World Publishing, 1946
Librarian's tip: "The Dred Scott Decision: Speech at Springfield, Illinois. June 26, 1857" begins on p. 352
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature By Gregg D. Crane Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Discussion of the Dred Scott case begins on p. 148
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