American Slavery: The Dread Scott Decesion (1857)


Figure 1.--

Dred Scott (1847- ) was a Missouri slave whose owner took him to Illinois and then to Wisconsin Territory, free teritory. His owner took him back to Missouri. After his owner died, Scott sued his new ower, claiming tht since he was taken to a free state, he was no longer a slave (1847). After years of litigation, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Taney Court decided to hear the case. The Court decided that as a slave, Scott had no right to bring suit. The Court, however, went on to say much more. Blacks could not be U.S. citizens. The court clearly stated that the Federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories. The Court also ruled that Congress could not outlaw slavery anywere in America. This in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise, the cornerstone law which had defused the slavery issue. The South was elated at the decission. The North was apalled. It meant that there was no legal (constitutional) way of dealing with the issue of slavery. It also essentially extended slavery to northern states that had abolished it. It gave lie to Southern arguments that slavery was a matter of state's rights.

Court History on Slavery

The Dread Scott case was not the first case the Supreme Court considered on slavery. The Court until the Dred Scott decesision ruled very narowly on cases concerned with slavery. Basically the Court always decided narrowly that slavery was as matter for state courts.

Dread Scott

Dred Scott (1847- ) was a Missouri slave.

Free Territory

Scott's owner took him to Illinois and then to Wisconsin Territory, free teritory. His owner took him back to Missouri.

Scott Sues His New Owner

After his owner died, Scott sued his new ower, claiming tht since he was taken to a free state, he was no longer a slave (1847). After years of litigation, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Taney Court

President Lincoln had considerable reason to be concern with what the Supreme Court might do after the War. The Supreme Court was led by Chief Justice Roper P. Taney, appointed by Andrew Jackson. The Taney Court had delivered arguably the worst decession in American history--the Dread Scott decession (1857). The decession settled the the question the civil status of blacks. The Court held that blacks were not and could not be citizens. Teney was convinced that the decession would defuse the sectional tensions building at the time. He advised newly elected President Buccanan of this even before the decession was issued. It is critical to understand the Taney Court when studying the modern historical debate over the Emancipation Proclamation. The Court was composed of Democrats and could easily have struck down a more expansive Emancipation Proclamation. This is why Lincoln wrote such a legalistic document and why he alsp persued the 13th Amendment. There is no doubt that without the 13th Amendment that the Emancipation Proclamation would have been brought before the Court and almost certainly questioned. Slave owners would have used the courts to recover their "lost property". The Court had begun to strike down various actions taken by the Lincoln Administration. Court rulings on military tribunals (in Ex-parte Mulligan) and prize cases give an indication of court hostility to the Lincoln Administration. Chief Justice Taney died in December 1864, but the make-up of the court was still little changed.

Supreme Court Decesion (1857)

The Taney Court decided to hear the case. It proceded to deliver arguably the worst decession in American history--the Dread Scott decesion (1857). Taney led the Court far beyound the erarlier narrow decesions. The Court decided that as a slave, Scott had no right to bring suit. The Court, however, went on to say much more. The Court ruled that blacks could not be U.S. citizens. The court clearly stated that the Federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories. The Court also ruled that Congress could not outlaw slavery anywere in America. This in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise, the cornerstone law which had defused the slavery issue. The Court decession and Taney's text permanently settled the the question the civil status of blacks and the question of slavery in America.

Reaction

The South was elated at the decission. The North was apalled. The decesion essentially ended the slsavery issue for all time. It meant that there was no legal (constitutional) way of dealing with the issue of slavery. It also essentially extended slavery to northern states that had abolished it. It gave lie to Southern arguments that slavery was a matter of state's rights.

Lincoln Douglas Debtes (1858)

The Dread Scott decesion outraged Abraham Lincoln and was one of the reasons he ran for the Senate against Senator Stephen A, Douglas. Lincoln challenged Senator Douglas to a series of debates across Illinois. Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates claimed that Taney and Douglas were in a conspiracy to promolte slavery. [Simon]

Impact

Chief Justice Taney was convinced that the decession would defuse the sectional tensions building at the time and settle the slavery issue once and for all--thus preserving the Union. He advised newly elected President Buccanan of this even before the decession was issued.

Sources

Simon, James. Lincoln and Chief Justice Tanney (2006).






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Created: 1:25 AM 5/10/2008
Last updated: 1:25 AM 5/10/2008