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Scott v. Sandford (1857) Summer Briefs Case #2 of ???

Scott v. Sandford

19 Howard (60 U.S.) 393; 15 L.Ed. 691 (1857)

Vote: 7-2


The Facts of the case are these: Dred Scott was a slave belonging to a surgeon in the U.S. Army. He was taken by his master into territories in which slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Several years after his return to Missouri, Dred Scott brought suit to obtain his freedom, arguing his temporary residence in a “free” territory had abolished his servitude. After an adverse ruling in the U.S. Circuit Court, Scott took the case to the Supreme Court on a writ of error.


The Issues in this case are these: Does the taking of Dred Scott to Missouri make him a freeman or can his master still retain possession of him?


The Holding in this case is this: The Court by a vote of 7 to 2 finds that since Negros were not intended to be included under the word “citizens” in the Constitution; they cannot claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.


Mr. Chief Justice Taney, delivered the majority opinion of the Court: Justice Taney begins the opinion: “The question then arises, whether the provisions of the Constitution, in relation to the personal rights and privileges to which the citizen of a State should be entitled, embraced the Negro African race, at that time in this country or who might afterwards be imported who had then or should afterwards be made free in any State; and to put it in the power of a single State to make him a citizen of the United States, and endow him with the full rights of the citizenship in every other State without their consent? Does the Constitution of the United States act upon him whenever he shall be made free under the laws of a State, and raised there to the rank of a citizen, and immediately cloth him with all the privileges of a citizen in every other State, and in its own courts?” He continues by stating: “The Court thinks the affirmative of these propositions cannot be maintained. And if it cannot, the plaintiff in error could not be a citizen of the State of Missouri, within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and consequently, was not entitled to sue in its courts….” The majority concludes by stating: “Upon these considerations, it is the opinion of the court that the act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; even if they had been carried there by the owner, with the intention of becoming a permanent resident….”


Mr. Justice Curtis, joined by Mr. Justice McLean, dissenting: He begins by stating: “To determine whether any free persons, descended from Africans held in slavery, were citizens of the United States under the Confederation, and consequently at the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, it is only necessary to know whether any such persons were citizens of either of the States under the Confederation, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. He concludes by stating: “Having first decided that they were bound to consider the sufficiency of the plea to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, and having decided that this plea showed that the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction, and consequently that this is a case to which the judicial power of the United States does not extend, they have gone on to examine the merits of the case as they appear on the trial before the court and jury, on the issues joined on the pleas in bar, and so have reached the question of the power of Congress to pass the act of 1820. On so grave a subject as this, I feel obliged to say that, in my opinion, such an exertion of judicial power transcends the limits of the authority of the Court….”


The Significance of this case is this: The Court in this opinion overturned the Missouri Compromise; the State of Missouri however didn’t abide by this decision, and didn’t recognize it as legitimate. The State of Missouri completely ignored this decision…