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Dredd Scott Essay, Research Paper

Dredd Scott

America in 1857 was a nation on the brink. Relationship between the North and

South had been strained for decades and was only getting worse. All tension had to do

with the issues of slavery. In 1848 the U.S. had acquired new lands in the Mexican

cession, and the debate was on. The question was whether or not the South should be

allowed to spread slavery into the new states. This debate turned violent many times. The

South threatened to secede from the Union if a candidate from the Republican party, who

was antislavery, won. Amidst all of the tension would emerge a slave named Dredd Scott.

Dredd Scott was a slave to Dr. John Emerson in St.Louis, Missouri a slave state.

Scott spent most of his time in Illinois, a free state, because his owner Dr. Emerson was an

Army doctor and he stayed in Fort Armstrong in Illinois. Living in a free state had

constituted freedom for previous slaves so Scott felt that he too deserved his freedom and

he brought his first case to court on April 6, 1846, at this time he had moved back to

Missouri and was the property of Dr. Emerson’s wife. Scott filed a declaration on April 6,

1846,which stated that Mrs. Emerson had “beat, bruised and ill treated him” before

imprisoning him for twelve hours. He declared that he was to be free on the basis that he

had lived of Fort Armstrong and Fort Snelling which were both located in free states.

Scott felt that he had a strong case as the Supreme Court of Missouri had freed slaves

previous to him who had also traveled with their masters to free states. Scott lost the first

case and brought the case up again in 1850 to the Supreme Court of Missouri, the same

court which had freed slaves previous on the same terms. The difference now was that

two of the three justices serving on the court were pro-slavery whereas in cases prior to

Scott vs. Emerson the Justices had a more apathetic view of slavery and saw it as a

neccesary evil. The court ruled against Scott in 1852 and once again his attempt at

freedom had failed. His next step was to take his case into the federal judicial system as he

brought it to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri.

The Scott case would be very different when entered into the federal court

however. First Scott had a new owner who was John F.A. Sanford, the brother of Mrs.

Emerson. Once again Scotts attempt failed based on Sanford’s argument that Scott had

regained his slave status when he returned to Missouri and therefor was a slave and had no

right to seek freedom. This was not Scott’s final attempt at freedom however. He decided

to take his case to the highest court in the nation.

Before proceeding to the Supreme Court with his case Dredd Scott found a lawyer

to represent his cause. The lawyer that took his case was a man named, Montgomery

Blair, a fellow Missourian. Blair was a highly respected lawyer in Washington, and was an

anti-slavery supporter. He also agreed to take Scott’s defense at no charge. The case had a

huge political impact at this time and was delayed one year in order to avoid debates about

the controversial topic in the election of 1856.

Scott’s case had not attracted much attention until it reached the Supreme Court.

The Scott case renewed debate over slavery issues and also the debate over whether

Congress had the power to regulate slavery. Both the republican and Democratic parties

agreed that the slavery issue should rest in the arms of the Supreme Court.

When the Supreme Court met for the first time on the case on February 14, 1857,

it favored the previous courts decision that ruled in favor of Mr. Sanford. Yet this case

opened other arguments such as Negro citizenship and the constitutionality of the

Missouri Compromise. When these issues were heard in court the court elected Chief

Justice Roger B. Taney to represent the majority decision in the court. The court battle

lasted nearly a month and on March 6, 1857, the court had reached a decision.

The first decision addressed by Roger Taney was whether or not Scott even had a

right to bring this case to court. Taney stated that, one of the privileges reserved for

citizens of the United States was the privilege of suing in a court of the United States.

Taney stated that Negroes had no right to bring suit in a U.S. federal court as they were

not citizens and had no right as citizens. Therefor Scott did not have the privilege of even

suing in the court. The other issue addressed was the constitutionality of the Missouri

Compromise. The compromise stated that no state above the 36th parallel would be a

slave state and slaves residing in them would be free. Taney ruled that the Missouri

Compromise was unconstitutional based on his view that slaves were not people but

property and the Missouri Compromise deprived slaveholders from property which was

unconstitutional. Taney also ruled that Scott’s argument that he lived in a free state was

irrelevant because when he brought his case to court he made his residence in Missouri

which was a slave state. The case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and sent back to

the lower court with instructions for the lower court to dismiss the case also. This upheld

the Missouri Supreme Courts decision ruling in favor of Sanford.

The Dredd Scott case can be seen as a failure for Scott himself but it brought

about many political debates about slavery. The Dredd Scott case in my opinion had the

larger impact on American politics and society than did any other slave related issue.

Northerners became outraged at the decisions by the court as well as the Republicans.

Southerners looked at the Republicans in disregard as they supported the antislavery issue.

The Dredd Scott case inspired many abolitionist feelings amongst Americans. Northerners

feared that slavery would spread to their territory and the Southerners grew angry with

anti-slavery followers in the North. Tension between the North and South grew day by

day. Four years after the decision in the Scott vs. Sanford case was read by Taney, half of

the Union seceded and the country began a civil war.

Although Dredd Scott did not see the direct effect of his actions he alone changed

our country by simply taking a stand. Being in the severe minority it is a huge victory for

Scott even though he did not win any of his cases or his freedom but he did win the hearts

of abolitionists who later would support his cause and eventually fight for the freedom of

all blacks. Dredd Scott was a great man in American history who may not be seen as a

large player in the eventual victory by the North. If it wasn’t for Dredd Scott the

Northerners may have never seen the potential for slavery to spread and when they least

expected slavery would consume them also. Dredd Scott brought forth the awareness

about slavery that leads to the society of today where people are treated as


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