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Dred Scott V. Sanford, 1857

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Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857

As America was shaping in the 1840's through the 1850's tensions were building between the Northern and Southern states. From the time of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Compromise of 1850 the spread of slavery into the union was a fiery debate. Henry Clay, who authored both of the Compromises, was determined to find a solution although it was only a temporary one. In the Compromise of 1850 the most controversial bill was the Fugitive Slave Act. This bill required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. It also denied the fugitives right to a jury trial. As a result of this the subject of slavery was before the nation and now American citizens took a stance for or against the issue of slavery (hrcr.org). When the territories from the Mexican cessions were applying for statehood debates were rampant between Pro-slavery and Anti-slavery supporters. At times the debates and views of these supporters turned violent and fatal as such during the "Bleeding Kansas" incident where Pro-slavery and Anti-slavery forces clashed. To set off the nations view even more, the case of Dred Scott against his owner Mrs. Emerson ignited the nation into such a fury that many attribute this case as one of the reasons why the Civil War began.

Dred Scott was born somewhere in the state of Virginia and in the year of 1830 he was moved to Saint Louis with his owners. Once in Saint Louis he was then sold to a Doctor, John Emerson, who was an Army surgeon. During the year of 1834 Dr. Emerson took Dred Scott to the military post at Rock Island, Illinois. They stayed here until the early part of 1836 where they then moved on to Fort Snelling, in upper Louisiana. It was here where Dred Scott met his wife Harriet who was a slave of Major Taliaferro, of the United States Army. Major Taliaferro in the year of 1836 sold Harriet to Dr. Emerson. With the consent of Dr. Emerson he allowed Dredd Scott and Harriet to be husband and wife in this same year. From this marriage they had two children Eliza and Lizzie.

The case was brought up on 6 April 1846 when Scott filed a declaration. This declaration stated that on 4 April, Mrs. Emerson "beat, bruised, and ill-treated him" before imprisoning him for twelve hours. Scott also declared that he was free by virtue of his residence at Fort Armstrong and Fort Snelling (Lectric Law Library). In the late 1830's and early 1840's the Supreme Court of Missouri had freed many slaves who had traveled with their masters in Free states. This argument was rejected by a Missouri court, Scott had many white supporters who managed to get the case into federal court on the issue of whether a slave had standing -- that is, the legal right -- to sue in federal court. The Supreme Court had to determine if it had jurisdiction, if Scott had standing then the court has jurisdiction.

The Court ruled that Scott, as a slave could not exercise the privilege of a free citizen to sue in federal court. Chief Justice Taney and his Southern sympathizers hoped for a definitive ruling which would settle the issue of slavery in the territories once and for all. So they went on to rule that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional since Congress could not forbid citizens from taking their property, i.e., slaves, into any territory owned by the United States. Chief Justice Taney ruled that a slave was property, nothing more, and could never be a citizen (usinfo.gov). Needless to say the Southerners welcomed the decision and the Northerners were furious with the decision. This decision from Chief Taney upset so many Northerners that it helped create what we now call the Republican Party.

There are two clauses in the constitution that the defense attributed to the case, One, the Migration or Importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808 (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, Constitution of the United States). Also no person held to service or labour in on state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3, Constitution of the United States). The view from the defense is that if Scott was a slave, he has no rights, is not a citizen but is only property, and therefore can not sue the government. Additionally the courts view was that a citizen can take his property wherever he wants, and that the laws from the state where they are a citizen can only be the laws that they should have to abide by.

The counsel for Dred Scott laid much of its stress upon the article which confers on Congress the power "to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States". However, this was argued that the territory in question was claimed by the United States and was within their boundaries and can have no influence upon a territory afterward acquired from a foreign government.

Although Scott received judgment in his favor from the Circuit Court of Saint Louis, it was on a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the State where it was reversed, and it went to the Circuit Court. This case was again argued in the December term of 1855 and at that time ordered to be reargued at a later time at the December term of 1857 (Lectric Law Library)

In all the court proceedings the counsel for the plaintiff argued on the basis that he (Dred Scott) was a free man on the fact

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