Dred Scott, Slave, Abolishonist, Civil Rights Leader   2 comments


Dred Scott (1795 – September 17, 1858), was an African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, popularly known as “the Dred Scott Decision.” His case was based on the fact that although he and his wife Harriet Scott were slaves, he had lived with his master Dr. John Emerson in states and territories where slavery was illegal according to both state laws and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, including Illinois and Minnesota (which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory). The United States Supreme Court decided 7-2 against Scott, finding that neither he nor any other person of African ancestry could claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under diversity of citizenship rules. Moreover, Scott’s temporary residence outside Missouri did not bring about his emancipation under the Missouri Compromise, which the court ruled unconstitutional as it would improperly deprive Scott’s owner of his legal property.

While Chief Justice Roger B. Taney had hoped to settle issues related to slavery and Congressional authority by this decision, it aroused outrage and deepened sectional tensions. President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the post-Civil war Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments nullified the decision.

 Overview

The case raised the issue of the status of slaves who had been held while residents in a free state. Such states and territories held that a slaveholder forfeited his rights to property by illegally holding a slave to a state that prohibited the institution and where there was no law to support his controlling the slave. Congress had never before addressed whether slaves were free if they set foot upon free soil. The ruling overturned the Missouri Compromise as unconstitutional, since it ruled that as slavery was protected in the Constitution, Congress could not regulate it in the federal Territories and deprive a slave owner of his property without due process. This conclusion enraged the abolitionist Republicans and further exacerbated sectional sentiments that led to the American Civil War. Newspapers at this time covered the case very well, showing people’s interest in the topic. Depending on the newspaper (abolitionist or southern) the reporters would either show approval or disapproval towards the decision to deny Scott his freedom.

Scott often traveled with his master Dr. John Emerson, a doctor in the US Army, who was regularly transferred under Army command. Scott’s stay with his master in Illinois, a free state, gave him the legal leverage to make a claim for freedom, as did his extended stay at Fort Snelling in the Wisconsin Territory (now Minnesota), where slavery was also prohibited. Scott did not file a petition for freedom while living in the free lands—perhaps because he was unaware of his rights at the time, or because he was afraid of the possible repercussions. After two years, the army transferred Emerson to territory where slavery was legal: first to St. Louis, Missouri, then to Louisiana. In just over a year, the recently married Emerson summoned his slave couple. Instead of staying in the free territory of Wisconsin (now Minnesota), or going to the free state of Illinois, the two traveled nearly 1,250 miles (2000 km),[citation needed] apparently unaccompanied, down the Mississippi River to meet their master. Only after Emerson’s death in 1843, when Emerson’s widow hired out Scott to an army captain, did Scott seek freedom for himself, his wife and their children. First he offered to buy his freedom from Emerson’s widow, Irene Emerson—then living in St. Louis—for US$300, about $7,000 in current value. After she refused his request , Scott sought freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court.

 Life

In the late 1790s, Dred Scott was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia, as property to the Peter Blow family. From what experts can conclude, Scott was originally named Sam and had an older brother named Dred. However, when the brother died as a young man, Scott chose to take his brother’s name instead. The Blow family settled near Huntsville, Alabama, where they unsuccessfully attempted farming.

In 1830 the Blow family took Scott with them when they relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. They sold him to John Emerson, a doctor serving in the United States Army.

 Marriage and family

In 1836 Dred Scott met a teen-aged slave named Harriet Robinson whose master was Major Lawrence Taliaferro, an army officer from Virginia. Taliaferro allowed Scott and Harriet to marry and transferred his ownership of Harriet to Dr. Emerson so the couple could be together. A couple of years later, Harriet gave birth to their first child, Eliza. In 1840, they had another daughter whom they named Lizzie. Eventually they would also have two sons, however, neither survived past infancy.

Dr. Emerson married Irene Sanford,[1] and the Emersons and Scotts returned to Missouri in 1842. When Dr. Emerson died the following year, his widow took over the estate. Scott offered to purchase his freedom from the widow Emerson, but she refused his request.

 Dred Scott case

Having failed to purchase his freedom, in 1846 Scott filed legal suit in St Louis Circuit Court through the help of a local lawyer. Historical details about why Scott sought recourse in the court system are unclear. The Scott v. Emerson case was tried in 1847 in the federal-state courthouse in St. Louis. The judgment went against Scott, but having found evidence of hearsay, the judge called for a retrial.[citation needed]

In 1850, a Missouri jury concluded that Scott and his wife should be granted freedom since they had been illegally held as slaves during their extended residence in the free jurisdictions of Illinois and Wisconsin. Irene Emerson appealed. In 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the lower court ruling, saying, “Times now are not as they were when the previous decisions on this subject were made.” They ruled that the precedent of “once free always free” was no longer the case, overturning 28 years of legal precedent. They told the Scotts they should have sued for freedom in Wisconsin. Justice Hamilton R. Gamble, a future governor of the state, sharply disagreed with the majority decision and wrote a dissenting opinion. The Scotts were returned to their master’s wife.

Under Missouri law at the time, after Dr. Emerson had died, powers of the Emerson estate were transferred to his wife’s brother, John F. A. Sanford. Because Sanford was a citizen of New York, Scott’s lawyers “claimed the case should now be brought before the Federal courts, on the grounds of diverse citizenship.”[2] With the assistance of new lawyers (including Montgomery Blair), the Scotts filed suit in the federal court.

After losing again in federal district court, they appealed to the United States Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford. (The name is spelled ‘Sandford’ in the court decision due to a clerical error.)

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion. Taney ruled that:

  • Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution. (Note: Only 3/5ths of a state’s slave population total was counted in their population total. Contrary to popular belief, slaves were not counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of congressional representation. They were considered property in historic records. There were free blacks in several of the 13 states when the Constitution was written. Their number increased dramatically in the Upper South in the first two decades after the Revolution; for instance, by 1810, fully 10 percent of the population in the Upper South were free blacks, as numerous slaveholders manumitted their slaves in this period, inspired by Revolutionary principles of equality.[3])
  • The Ordinance of 1787 could not confer either freedom or citizenship within the Northwest Territory to non-white individuals.
  • The provisions of the Act of 1820, known as the Missouri Compromise, were voided as a legislative act, since the act exceeded the powers of Congress, insofar as it attempted to exclude slavery and impart freedom and citizenship to non-white persons in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase.[4]

The Court had ruled that African Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship. Since they were not citizens, they did not possess the legal standing to bring suit in a federal court. As slaves were private property, Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery in the territories and could not revoke a slave owner’s rights based on where he lived. This decision nullified the essence of the Missouri Compromise, which divided territories into jurisdictions either free or slave. Speaking for the majority, Taney ruled that because Scott was simply considered the private property of his owners, that he was subject to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the taking of property from its owner “without due process”.

The decision increased tensions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in both North and South, further pushing the country towards the brink of civil war.[citation needed]

Gravesite

Following the ruling, Scott and his family were returned to Emerson’s widow. In the meantime, her brother John Sanford had been committed to an insane asylum. In 1850, Irene Sanford Emerson had remarried. Her new husband, Calvin C. Chaffee, was an abolitionist, who shortly after was elected to the US Congress. Chaffee was apparently unaware that his wife owned the most prominent slave in the United States until one month before the Supreme Court decision. By then it was too late for him to intervene, and Chaffee was harshly criticized for having been married to a slaveholder.[citation needed] He was able to convince his wife Irene to return Scott to his original owners, the Blow family. By this time, The Blow family had relocated to Missouri and become opponents of slavery, granting the Scotts emancipation by Henry Taylor Blow on May 26, 1857, less than three months after the Supreme Court ruling.[citation needed] Scott went to work as a porter in St. Louis for nearly 17 months before he died from tuberculosis in September 1858.[citation needed] Scott was survived by his wife and his two daughters.

Scott was originally interred in Wesleyan Cemetery in St. Louis. When this cemetery was closed nine years later, Taylor Blow transferred Scott’s coffin to a plot in the nearby Catholic cemetery, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, which permitted burial of non-Catholic slaves by Catholic owners.[5] A local tradition later developed of placing Lincoln pennies on top of Scott’s gravestone for good luck.[5]

Harriet Scott was long thought to be buried near her husband, but it was later proven that she was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hillsdale, Missouri. She outlived her husband by 18 years, dying on June 17, 1876.[6]

 Legacy

  • Their daughter Eliza Scott married and had two sons. Lizzie never married, but following her sister’s early death, she helped raise her nephews. One of Eliza’s sons died young, but the other married and has descendants, some of whom still live in St. Louis as of 2010.[7]
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Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Slavery

2 responses to “Dred Scott, Slave, Abolishonist, Civil Rights Leader

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  1. F*ckin’ amazing points here. I’m quite content to seem your posting. Appreciate it with this particular waiting for speak to you. Are you going to remember to fall us a e-mail?

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