Thursday, March 6, 2014

This Day in History

On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Sanford v. Dred Scott case. Dred Scott was a slave belonging to Dr. John Emerson. Emerson, a surgeon with the U.S. Army, took Scott into Illinois, which was a free state, and then they lived in the Wisconsin territory, where the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had prohibited slavery. In 1846, Scott sued Emerson's widow for his freedom and that of his wife and two children on the grounds that he had been a resident of a free state and territory. Though Scott won in a lower court, the Missouri supreme court reversed that decision. Power over Emerson's estate was transferred to his widow's brother, so J.A. Sandford of New York became Scott's new master.

Scott appealed the Missouri supreme court's decision. Since his new master resided in New York, a federal court opted to hear the case. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion in the case that ruled Scott or any other person of African ancestry could not claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore, could not bring suit in a federal court. Taney said the framers of the Constitution believed blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it."

The Dred Scott Decision would further fan the flames of discontent in America over the issue of slavery, bringing the country closer to civil war.

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