Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Dred Scott Decision
The United States Supreme Court ruling known as the Dred Scott Decision was made in 1857 and was morally wrong. It is important for all mankind to understand what happened in this case and why it was a bad decision. The ruling declared that no black person - free or slave - could claim citizenship in the United States. The decision also declared that slavery could not be prohibited in the United States Territories. This ruling moved the United States one step closer to civil war because it caused angry resentment among Northerners. This decision also had great influence on the introduction and passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment was adopted in 1868, extended citizenship to former slaves, and gave them full civil rights. A little background information on the case may be helpful to you. Dred Scott was a slave who belonged to John Emerson of Missouri, a state where slavery was legal. Emerson, a United States Army surgeon moved in 1834 to Illinois, a state where slavery was illegal. They later moved to the Wisconsin Territory where the Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery. Emerson returned to Missouri in 1838 and died there in 1843. Scott sued three years later to obtain his freedom from Emerson's widow. The Dred Scott case was based on the argument that he was a free man because he had lived in a free state (Illinois) and a free territory (Wisconsin). A decision by the state circuit court was for Scott. This decision was later reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court. In the meantime, John F. A. Sanford became Scott's legal owner. The case was moved into a federal court because Sanford did not live in Missouri. This court ruled against Scott, but the case went to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled with a majority of 7 to 2 that Scott could not bring a suit to federal courts because he was black and blacks were not citizens of the United States. The Missouri Compromise was discussed as part of the Dred Scott case because there was a growing desire in the nation to know if it was constitutional even though it had been repealed in 1854. The Supreme Court decided by a smaller majority that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney spoke for the majority in explaining that blacks could not claim United States citizenship. He also argued that slaves were property and that Congress would violate a slave owner's constitutional right to own property by forbidding slavery in the territories. Shortly after his case was heard by the Supreme Court, Dred Scott was sold. His new owner set him free two months after the decision. Slavery is morally wrong. It is an evil practice that deprives human beings of the divine right of agency. The Dred Scott decision was especially evil because it used the rule of law to keep a human being in slavery. I am grateful that there was a majority of morally correct people in our nation who forced an end to the practice of slavery. Facts for this post came from an article by Stanley I. Kutler in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p 345.