Dred Scott v. Sandford

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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In Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857), the U.S. Supreme Court faced the divisive issue of SLAVERY. Chief Justice ROGER B. TANEY, a former slaveholder, authored the Court's opinion, holding that the U.S. Constitution permitted the unrestricted ownership of black slaves by white U.S. citizens. In a stunning 7?2 decision, the Court declared that slaves and emancipated blacks could not be full U.S. citizens. Any attempt by Congress to limit the spread of slavery in U.S. territories was held to be a direct violation of slave owners' due process rights.

Chief Justice Taney's opinion fueled the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement and helped push the United States toward civil war. Although Taney was an accomplished jurist who served as chief justice for 29 years, his record was permanently tarnished by what many considered to be his flawed reasoning in the Dred Scott case.

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Dred Scott sued for his freedom in 1857, claiming that his residence with his owner in a free state and free territories entitled him to liberty. The Supreme Court ruled against Scott, sparking outrage among abolitionists.

African slavery was introduced in the American colonies in 1619. As the new country grew, slavery spread throughout the South, where cheap labor was needed for harvesting large cotton and tobacco crops. During the early nineteenth century, opponents of slavery began to organize in the North.

Abolitionists initially wanted to restrict slavery to the southern states, but their ultimate goal was to outlaw black servitude throughout the United States. As new territories from the LOUISIANA PURCHASE applied for U.S. state-hood, the issue became a sticking point. Most southerners supported the spread of slavery, viewing it as a necessary condition for their social, political, and economic survival. Most northerners favored the containment and eventual eradication of slavery. Although political moderates called for voters in each new territory to resolve the slavery issue, a national consensus on this point was never reached.

The 1820 Missouri Compromise was an attempt by the U.S. Congress to balance the competing viewpoints. Congress passed a law designating as free states any new states located north of a line drawn across the Louisiana Purchase. New states south of the line would be slave states. In other words, slavery was outlawed north of Missouri's...

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