The Dred Scott Case
Who was Dred Scott? He was the former slave who took his case for freedom to the Supreme Court but sadly lost the case. (Although here's a bittersweet ending: although he was returned to slavery immediately after the case, he was freed a few years before his death.) The case brought new attention to the issue of slavery and even came to the attention of a certain fellow by the name of Abraham Lincoln.
|U.S. History||Antebellum Period and Manifest Destiny: 1815–1860|
Who would name their kid Dred anyway? Dred's new owner wouldn't sell.
The Abolitionists -- people unified in trying to abolish slavery, hence the catchy title
-- backed Dred to sue for his rights to freedom.
They filed a lawsuit stating Dred had left
slave territory, gone into free man territory and should now legally be declared a free man.
The Dred Scott legal case turned the page
on one of the uglier chapters in American law.
Scott's original owner's family had moved from Missouri, a slave state,
to Illinois, a non slave state.
Then to Minnesota, a non slave state. Then he moved back to Missouri.
The case exploded onto the national scene.
The Abolitionists claimed that once Dred passed
into a non-slave state, he was freed. Their motto: "Once free, always free."
Taco Bell tried a similar motto recently, but sales plummeted.
Dred lost in the Missouri state ruling but won the right to have an appeal.
The case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court.
The press ate it up. National headlines. TMZ covered it too.
The Chief Justice at the time was Roger Taney. He owned slaves.
Andrew Jackson, also a slave-owner,
was the president and the guy who appointed him.
Taney's key legal focus: "States rights over Federal" -
that is, laws enacted by states should trump those enacted by the federal government when
there's a conflict. Taney wrote: "Slaves have no rights which
any white man was bound to respect."
In effect, Taney confirmed that slaves were property, not human.
Taney's ruling had more teeth than ruining one man's life:
It essentially overturned the Missouri Compromise:
Taney sort of perverted the human rights element of the law -
it wasn't about depriving the slave of his rights...
It was about depriving the slave owner of his rights in owning the slave.
That is, you can't just take away property because a slave steps one foot outside of paradise.
The decision basically took away the right
to ever end slavery because if that happened, all the good white folk who had paid good
hard cash to buy their version of Dred would be deprived of property.
But a good thing did come from the case. The ruling helped a certain someone's famous Emancipation
Proclamation gain popularity years later. But it also was one of the pivotal points
turning the nation towards that would become the American Civil War.
Was the judge correct in that States rights should trump Federal law?
Would the Civil War have happened if the Dred Scott case turned out differently?
Shmoop amongst yourselves.