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

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 32
Aftermath and Epilogue

LIKE THE COMET that lit the skies of the Northern hemisphere that month,1 the decision riveted the nation’s attention. The Dred Scott case was the headline story in newspapers across the country, with reaction to it splitting the North and the South.2 But from the Scotts’ vantage point the St. Louis newspapers’ coverage of the story affected them most directly. The family’s newfound notoriety made them the subject of a public curiosity that they could have never imagined. A series of articles in the Missouri Republican asked the same perplexing question, “Who owned Dred Scott?”3 From Massachusetts, the extremely embarrassed Congressman Chaffee disclaimed having any knowledge of the matter. Even Dred wondered who his master was after the ruling.4Frank Leslie’s Illustrated stated, “He is anxious to know who owns him, being ignorant whether he is the property of Mrs. Chaffee or Mr. Sanford.”5

In the city where the Scotts continued to live, the spotlight was almost exclusively on Dred. The news articles rendered Harriet’s husband a celebrity in the streets. One news article pointed him out to the reading public as someone who could “frequently be seen passing along Third Street.”6 No longer did Dred’s race give him cover to walk about the streets unnoticed; he was now in the words of one newspaper, “the best known colored person in the world.”7 So singular was the focus of the decision upon Dred that even the courts used his first name in citation, defying the conventional custom of legal documentation. That very nomenclature encouraged the notion that Dred was the only petitioner. The nation was probably not aware that the suit involved the fate of a family, and that by law, the key to Eliza and Lizzie’s fate was the case’s co-litigant, their mother. In a sense, the continued focus on Dred spared Harriet and their daughters publicity.

According to some articles, Dred did not appear “discouraged” by the celebrated case.8 He is said to have laughed heartily at all the fuss made about him, but stated that he would not have done it again if he’d known what it would entail. “He seems tired of running about with no one to look after him, while

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