Dredd Scott Decision

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INTRODUCTION United States Supreme Court case Scott v. Sanford (1857), commonly known as the Dred Scott Case, is probably the most famous case of the nineteenth century (with the exception possibly of Marbury v. Madison). It is one of only four cases in U. S. history that has ever been overturned by a Constitutional amendment (overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments). It is also, along with Marbury, one of only two cases prior to the Civil War that declared a federal law unconstitutional. This case may have also been one of the most, if not the most, controversial case in American history, due simply to the fact that it dealt an explosive opinion on an issue already prepared to erupt - slavery. Thus, many scholars assert that the Dred Scott case may have almost single-handedly ignited the ever growing slavery issue into violence, culminating ultimately into the American Civil War. It effectively brought many abolitionists and anti-slavery proponents, particularly in the North, "over the edge". BACKGROUND Dred Scott was a slave born in Virginia who early in life moved with his owner to St. Louis, Missouri. At this time, due to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Missouri was added as a slave state, but no state may allow slavery if that state falls above the 36 degree 30 minute latitudinal line. Later, in 1854 under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, states were allowed to vote on whether they will allow slavery or not, known commonly as popular sovereignty. In St. Louis, Scott was sold to an army surgeon named Dr. John Emerson in 1833. A year later, Emerson, on a tour of duty, took Scott, his slave, to Illinois, a free state. In 1836, Emerson's military career then took the both of them to the free Wisconsin territory known today as Minnesota. Both of these states, it is important to recognize, where both free states and both above the 36 degree 30 minute line. While Emerson and Scott were in Wisconsin, Scott married Harriet Robinson, another slave, and ownership of her was subsequently transferred to Emerson. Dr. Emerson himself took a bride while on a tour of duty in Louisiana, named Eliza Irene Sanford, whose family happened to live in St. Louis. While the slaves (Dred and Harriet) stayed in St. Louis with Eliza and the rest of the family, Dr. Emerson was posted in Florida in 1842, where the Seminole war was being fought. He returned a year later but died within... ... middle of paper ... ...dment, which abolished slavery altogether, and the 14th Amendment, which pronounced all persons born in the United States to be citizens of the U.S. regardless of color or "previous condition of servitude." Also, this case was the first to employ the substantive due process clause which would be referred to again later in many other cases. AREAS FOR FURTHER STUDY There was one specific issue that puzzled me, and I confess I was unable to find any adequate answer to the query. I am referring to how a slave, in this case Dred Scott, was able to marry another slave, Harriet Robinson, in the free territory of Wisconsin, which was well above the 36 degree 30 minute line. Why was she a slave at all? Hadn't the Missouri Compromise, still constitutional in the 1830's, eliminated slavery there? Or perhaps she was not "technically" a slave at all but a free black living in that territory, then why would she marry a slave? And if she did, why would she then fall under the ownership of Dr. Emerson if she had already been freed? This is an area I would suggest further research be employed so that our understanding of the slavery situation in the territories at this time be more fully enhanced.

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