Wednesday, March 6, 2013
156 Years Ago Today
When his “master” died in 1843, Scott sued Emerson's widow for his freedom, claiming that his residence in a “free state” made him a free man.
After being defeated in the State Supreme Court, Scott’s attorneys brought suit in federal court against Mrs. Emerson's agent in the litigation, her brother John Sanford of New York. Eleven years after Scott's initial suit the case came before the United States Supreme Court.
The Dred Scott Decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney on March 6, 1857, held that Scott, as a Negro and a slave, was not a citizen of the United States, and therefore, had no right to sue in federal court. The 7 to 2 Decision was contrary to both federal and state laws.
Taney went on to hold that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories, declaring the anti-slavery provision of the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, because slaves are personal property protected under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The two dissenting opinions from Justices John McLean and Benjamin Curtis were strong and sharply worded exceptions to the chief justice's sweeping opinion.
Intended to be the definitive ruling that would settle the growing and contentious controversy threatening the Union, the Dred Scott Decision instead helped to move the nation one step closer toward civil war.
Two months after the Decision, on May 26, 1857, Peter Blow, the son of Scott's first owner, purchased freedom for Scott and his family. During that same month, John Sanford died, in an asylum for the insane.