Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857)

The Supreme Court case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford was in short a simple freedom suit by a family of enslaved Americans against the wife of their former master. The decision of this case led to major ramifications and can be linked to the start of the American Civil War.

Who was Dred Scott?

Dred Scott was an enslaved African American who was owned by Dr. John Emerson
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Dred Scott
, a surgeon in the U.S. Army. Scott was needed to help Emerson with military duties and the two eventually moved from Missouri, a slave state, to the non-slaveholding dominion of Illinois. The two remained in Illinois for approximately two years and then moved to Fort Snelling in present day Minnesota, which prohibited slavery as stated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Dred Scott married and had two children in territory prohibiting slavery and then eventually moved back with Emerson and was sold to the case defendant, John F. A. Sanford, which was misspelled as Sandford.
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John F. A. Sanford

Cause for the Case

The ultimate reason for the court case was simple; Dred Scott's stay at Fort Snelling created a freedom claim that the Supreme Court could use to test the Missouri Compromise's constitutionality. Because the Scotts’ new owner, Sanford was a ci
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Missouri Compromise
tizen of New York, they could claim citizenship in Missouri and begin a court case in diversity jurisdiction. This permitted citizens that were suing people in other states access to the presumed neutral federal court system. The lower federal court accepted the claim of citizenship but then proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court. This court case represented more than just a cry for a family’s freedom. It also brought numerous issues into light including court procedure, the position of African Americans within federal policy, the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, and the authority of Congress to restrict the expansion of slavery.

Court Ruling

Many political pressures impacted the success of the Dred Scott case. These included the differing beliefs of political parties and groups mostly debating the idea of territorial slavery. This case also was impacted by the growth of a new organization that completely refuted the idea of spreading slavery. Chief Justice Roger Taney eventually ruled that “they [enslaved African Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as b
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Chief Justice Roger Taney
eings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Chief Justice Taney basically ruled that no African American could be a U.S. citizen and that Congress had no authority to ban slavery’s expansion. Chief Justice Taney also stated that the court did not possess jurisdiction over the case because Dred Scott was not a U.S. citizen.

After the Ruling

Along with the prohibition of citizenship for enslaved African Americans, Chief Justice Taney also declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, as it restricted citizens of the Fifth Amendment which would deprive people of their property and transport of that property. Eventually the court’s ruling was overruled by the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States while the Fourteenth guaranteed citizenship for any person born or naturalized in the United States.