Dred Scott v. Sandford
, also known as “the Dred Scott decision”, is seen as one of the worst and most important decisions ever determined by the Supreme Court. The case started a remarkable argument over the future of slavery and its decision incited the Civil War.
Dred Scott was a slave in St. Louis, Missouri who was owned by John Emerson from 1833 to 1843. Because he and his family had been living on free soil for several years in Illinois and Minnesota, he felt like they were entitled to their freedom.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote for the majority in a 7-2 decision. The ruling was encouraged by President-elect James Buchanan and aimed to quash the argument once and for all between the North and South over the issue of slavery. Taney came to a few different conclusions. First, was that black people and their descendants weren’t protected by the Constitution and thereby they could not be citizens. Second, since black people aren’t citizens, they have no privileges granted by the Constitution and have no right to sue the court. Taney could have stopped there, dismissing Scott’s case on his lack of standing alone. Nonetheless, he went on to rule that Congress had no power to control slavery in the territories. Finally, he stated that slaves were private property and should be treated like any other property.
Taney’s broad opinion rejected Scott’s legal battle for freedom, but also lowered all blacks to a permanent status of powerlessness and carried a frightening implication for all African Americans. Many took this as the end of their quest for equal rights. Some antislavery groups feared slavery would return to the free states. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who supported the anti-slavery movement, asserted that the nation was close to destroying all of the North’s anti-slavery laws. But the Republican Party was not discouraged by the ruling.
The Republican Party turned Dred Scott’s defeat into a rightful moment for social change. The party’s fight to take control of the White House led to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and ultimately, the Civil War.
Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History