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A momentous decision is an important decision, or a decision of

great consequence, that may affect a certain group of people to a

certain extent, or it may affect the majority of people in many different

ways. A momentous decision could also be an important decision

that affects the majority of the population during that certain time

period, or maybe affects the future populations to come.

Another point of view of a momentous decision is a once in a lifetime

event that happens, even if its in a fiction book. Examples of

momentous decisions vary greatly on topics and time periods. A few

examples are: the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan,

Huckleberry Finn?s deciding he would rather go to Hell then betray his

friend Jim, Rosa Park?s decision not to move to the back of the bus,

King Lear?s decision to divide his land, the famous court trial; Roe vs.

Wade, the Dred Scott decision, Romeo and Juliet?s decision to be a

couple, Solidarity?s decision to resist the government of Poland, Aung

San Suu Kyi?s decision to resist the government of Myanmar, Martin

Luther?s decision to nail his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the

Wittenburg Cathedral, the decision of the New York Times to publish

the Pentagon Papers, Richard Nixon?s decision to visit China, etc. As

shown in the examples above, there were many momentous

decisions during the past that have affected that certain time period,

or might even affect present or future time periods as well. One of

the many momentous decision that affected the mid19th century, 20th

century, and probably many more centuries to come is the Dred Scott


The Dred Scott Decision was an important ruling by the

Supreme Court of the United States on the issue of slavery. The

decision, which was made up in 1857, declared that African

American, free or slave, could claim United States citizenship. It also

stated that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the United States

territories, mainly speaking of the Midwestern territories. During the

1850?s in the United States, Southern support of slavery and Northern

opposition to it collided more violently than ever before over the case

of Dred Scott, a black slave from Missouri who claimed his freedom

on the basis of seven years of residence in a free state and a free

territory. When the outweighed proslavery Supreme Court of the

United States heard Scott?s case, they that not only was he still a

slave, but that the main law ensuring that slavery would not enter the

new Midwestern territories of the United States. This decision sent

the US into fights between the disagreeing groups. The chaos would

end only after a long and bloody civil war fought primarily over the

issue of slavery and its extension into the Midwestern territories. The

Supreme Court?s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford helped accelerate

the arrival of the American Civil War by intensifying the already tense

relationship between Northerners and Southerners.

Dred Scott was the slave of a United States Army surgeon,

John Emerson of Missouri. Missouri was a state that permitted

slavery, so there was no law that was broken. In 1834, Dred Scott

went with Emerson to live in Illinois, which also prohibited slavery.

They later lived in the Wisconsin Territory, but slavery was forbidden

by the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Compromise was a plan

agreed upon the United States Congress in 1820 to settle the debate

over slavery in the Louisiana Purchase area. The plan temporarily

maintained the balance between free and slave states. In 1838, Dred

Scott and Emerson returned to Missouri. Emerson died five years

later, and in 1846, Dred Scott sued the surgeon?s widow for his

freedom. Unlike the states in the South, Missouri enacted slave laws

that were based upon those of Virginia and Kentucky. These laws

provided an opportunity for slaves to file suits for freedom, which

made Dred Scott?s decision completely legal.

The suits of Dred Scott and Dred Scott?s wife, Harriet, aren?t

exactly known, but a possible answer that most historians believe is

that Dred Scott?s long-time friend and childhood companion, Taylor

Blow, may have played a key role. Other historians feel the suits may

have been started by an attorney who felt he could make a large

amount of money form the case. There is also a possibility that it was

Dred Scott himself.

Scott based his suit on the argument that his former residence

in a free state and a free territory–Illinois and Wisconsin–made him a

free man. On June 30th, 1847, with Judge Alexander Hamilton

presiding, or as the head judge. Even with an ambiguous record, it

seems that Scott?s attorney, Samuel Mansfield Bay, the former

attorney general of Missouri, spoke for the slave. Mrs. Emerson was

represented by George W. Goode, a Virginia lawyer with a strong

proslavery feeling. As mentioned above, Scott?s lawyer, Bay,

established the point of Scott?s residence on free land, but besides

that Bay relied on the testimony of Samuel Russell, who told the court

that he had hired the Scotts from Mrs. Emerson, paying Mrs.

Emerson?s father, Alexander Sandford. While being cross-examined

by Goode, Russell admitted that it was actually his wife who had

made all the arrangements, and that Russell didn?t know anything

more than what his wife had told him. Since that made Scott?s case

harder to prove, the jury was told to ignore Russell?s testimony, but

that testimony proved that Dred and Harriet Scott weren?t Mrs.

Emerson?s slave at all. After the court had realized that, the jury came

up with the verdict for the defendant, which was Mrs. Emerson.

On December 2, 1847, Judge Hamilton ordered the case to be

retried, but instead of having the same trial, Mrs. Emerson?s lawyer

filled a bill to have a new trial instead. The reason for why the bill was

filled is because an error was made in the first trial. If the new trial

had been accepted, it would have been transferred to the Missouri

supreme court. Since it wasn?t, that had the retrial. As of the status

of the two sides, Mrs. Emerson wanted them to remain as their

slaves, and Dred and Harriet Scott ended up having to start all over

again. The Blows, companion of Dred Scott, hated Mrs. Emerson

and the Sandfords, so they were determined to do whatever it took to

win. Before the trial was retried, Mrs. Emerson?s family hired new

attorneys, Hugh A. Garland and Lyman D. Norris, to represent them

instead of Goode. The case was finally retired on January 12, 1850,

with Judge Hamilton preceding again. This time, the Scotts based

their argument on the fact that Mrs. Emerson had hired Dred and

Harriet out to several people, which proved that the were slaves. The

jury found the case in the Scott?s favor and declared them free. Even

though the Scott?s were free, Mrs. Emerson didn?t stop fighting. She

tried to get another retrial, but that didn?t work, so she appealed to the

Missouri Supreme Court. The attorneys from both sides signed an

agreement recognizing that the cases of Dred and Harriet Scott and

Mrs. Emerson were identical, they would become one single case.

The facts of the case were filed on March 1850, but the court didn?t

hear the case until 1852. Part of the problem the Scotts faced with

the delay was that Missouri was beginning to feel increasing political

pressure over the question of slavery. The state found itself in an

awkward position, since it was bordered on three sides by free states.

The pressure of the free territory around Missouri made Missouri?s

proslavery legislature to guard against antislavery laws. Since

Missouri was being pressured by free territory, the state supreme

court judges who heard the case decided to reverse the previous

court?s decision and reject Scott?s claim to freedom.

In the Autumn of 1851, Judge William Scott and Judge

Hamilton R. Gamble joined Judge John F. Ryland in reconsidering

the Scott case. On March 22nd, 1852, Judge Scott handed down the

decision, which was that they favored for Mrs. Emerson. The Scotts

didn?t file a quick appeal with the Supreme Court, but instead, they

waited until Mrs. Emerson gave the Scotts to her brother, John

Sandford. On November 2nd, 1853, the Scotts filed their case

against Sandford in the Circuit Court of the United States for the

District of Missouri. The suit accused Sandford, who was a citizen of

New York, of illegally assaulting, holding, and imprisoning Dred Scot,

Harriet Scott, and their two daughters, all citizens of Missouri. This

case was then set for April 1854.

On April 7th, 1854, Sandford and his attorney, Hugh A. Garland,

challenged the court?s right to hear the case based upon the fact that

Dred Scott descended from slaves of African blood, therefore never

being a true citizen of Missouri. Judge Robert W. Wells denied the

challenge, stating that for the purpose of this case, citizenship implied

nothing more than residence in a state. After a very long legal plan,

the case finally came to trial on May 15, 1854. During the hearing,

neither Scott?s or Sandford?s lawyers called any witnesses or

introduced any evidence that had no already been presented to

previous courts. The jury returned a verdict in Sandford?s favor.

Since the trial went to quickly, Alexander Field, Scott?s attorney, filed

a bill of exceptions, which is the first step necessary to take the case

to the highest court in the land.

Scott?s work is becoming more and more difficult. He has to

find a new attorney who could argue the case before the Supreme

Court. They wanted an experienced lawyer who was willing to donate

his fee for legal services. Many months passed, adnd Scott still had

neither an attorney or the money to get the case. On Christmas Eve

of 1854, Alexander Field wrote to Montgomery Blair suggesting that

he or some other Washington attorney might serve ?the cause of

humanity? (pg. 44, The Dred Scott Case: Slavery and Citizenship)

Meanwhile, the Sandfords didn?t have a hard time at all finding an

attorney. The two attorneys were Henry S. Geyer, and Reverdy

Johnson. Henry S. Geyer was a respected member of the Missouri

State Bar, and Reverdy Johnson was a former senator and attorney

general under President Zachary Taylor. Those two attorneys were

among the most respected constitutional lawyers in the country. The

written notes of Dred Scott v. Sandford was delivered to the Supreme

Court on December 20, 1854.

Scott was waiting for the Supreme Court?s decision, which were

the effects of the Kansas-Nebraska act, were beginning to take hold.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by congress in 1854. It

provided that two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were to be

made from the Indian land that lay west of the band of the Missouri

River, and north of 37 degrees latitude. Senator Stephen A. Douglas

of Illinois introduced the bill into Congress. Finally, on February 7th,

1856, Blair filed his summary of the case. Blair argued that when

Scott had gone to Illinois state constitution specifically forbade slavery

in that state. He argued that as soon as Scott set foot in Illinois, he

was free from slavery. Scott?s arguments consists of him being a

slave in the slave state of Missouri. Scott had traveled to the free

state of Illinois, upon which action he became free. The principle of

permanent emancipation entitled Scott to remain a free man after

returning to Missouri; once free, always free, the principle said. Scott

indeed had the right to sue for his freedom in federal court because

he was a citizen by virtue of his residence in one of the United States

of America. Sandford?s Arguments consisted of three elements: 1)

The restrictions on slavery and the Missouri Compromise were invalid

because Congress did not have the authority to decide the issue of

slavery in the territories. 2) Scott?s traveling to Illinois Territory did

not, therefore, make him a free man. #) Scott?s return to Missouri, a

slave state, meant that since he had never been a free man, he kept

his status as a slave. (pg. 54, The Dred Scott Case: Slavery and


On March 6th, 1857, Taney, Chief Justice, began reading a

shortened summary of his opinion in a crowded courtroom. By May

13th, Taney?s opinion had not been released for publication. In late

May, Taney?s official opinion was released. The Supreme court had

decided once and for all that Dred Scott was still a slave and that the

Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, a finding that made it null

and void. This ruling had been long awaited and it was received by

many. All that remained of this case is the effects on society.

The impact of the Dred Scott decision spread quickly

throughout the land. From local papers, to the politicians, everyone

had an opinion to the decision and it affected them in some way.

Those opposed to slavery had been working for the release of all

slaves directed their anger towards the Court. They were determined

to see Dred Scott reversed in order to stop the spread of slavery

throughout the US Legislature. Republicans thought that by taking

over the executive and legislative branches of the government, they

could place pressure on the court to reconsider its decision.

Throughout the Civil War years, President Lincoln, who was an

abolitionist, clashed with Chief Justice Taney. During the next three

years, Taney opposed nearly all action taken by Lincoln in the name

of the federal government. In the long run, it wasn?t the decision of

the Supreme court, or the opinion of Roger Taney, nor it was the Civil

War, constitution amendment or the Emancipation Proclamation that

was the beginning of the end of slavery. It was the determination of a

highly respected man with common sense and a great determination

to fight for what he felt was right. To summarize that in one word, that

man would be Dred Scott. This event would be a mometous decision

because it affected many people then and now. Without this first step

to freedom of the slaves or African Americans, then life wouldn?t be

like it is. Instead, it would be much different, just like back then.

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