Dred Scott portrait

On November 2, 1853, American slave Dred Scott filed suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri seeking his freedom. The suit named John Sanford as the defendant in the case, but a clerical error in the filing procedure recorded the suit as Scott v. Sandford. On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court denied Scott’s request for freedom. [Wikimedia Commons]

Dred Scott v. Sandford Facts

1856 - 1857

Key facts about the Dred Scott v. Sandford U.S. Supreme Court case.

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Also known as:

  • Dred Scott Decision

Date:

  • 1856 – 1857

Significance:

  • Sometime between 1831 and 1833, Peter Blow or his heirs sold the slave Dred Scott to Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon stationed at Jefferson Barracks, just south of St. Louis.
  • On December 1, 1833 army surgeon Dr. John Emerson took his slave, Dred Scott, to Illinois (where slavery was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance), when he was transferred to Fort Armstrong.
  • In May 1836, army surgeon Dr. John Emerson took his slave, Dred Scott, with him when he was reassigned to Fort Snelling, in the Wisconsin Territory (where slavery was banned by the Missouri Compromise of 1820).
  • While at Fort Snelling, Dr. John Emerson allowed his slave, Dred Scott, to marry Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by Major Lawrence Taliaferro, Indian agent for the territory. Shortly thereafter, Emerson acquired ownership of Robinson.
  • In 1840, Dred Scott and his wife Harriett returned to Missouri.
  • On December 29 1840, Dr. John Emerson died, leaving his slaves, Dred and Harriet Scott to his wife, Irene Emerson.
  • Dred and Harriet Scott reportedly tried to purchase their freedom from Irene Emerson after Dr. John Emerson’s death, but Mrs. Emerson refused their offer.
  • Dred and Harriet Scott filed identical petitions with the St. Louis Circuit Court, on April 6, 1846, seeking their freedom on the grounds that they had lived for long periods of time in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin.
  • Dred and Harriet Scott’s law suit seeking their freedom was based on an 1824 Missouri statute that enabled anyone held wrongfully in slavery to sue for their freedom.
  • In 1824, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the case of Winny v Whiteside that if a slave owner took a slave to free territory and established residence there, the slave was then free, even if the slave returned to Missouri. That ruling established the judicial standard in Missouri of “once free, always free.”
  • In 1834, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the case of Rachel v. Walker that “if an officer of the United States Army takes a slave to a territory where slavery is prohibited, he forfeits his property.”
  • Dred and Harriet Scott’s petition to gain their freedom through the Missouri came to trial on June 30, 1847, with Judge Alexander Hamilton presiding. The Scotts were denied their petition due to a legal technicality regarding the testimony of a witness during the trial. However, Judge Hamilton ruled that they Scotts were entitled to a new trial.
  • In 1847, Irene Emerson’s lawyers filed suit with the Missouri Supreme Court to deny Dred and Harriet Scott a second trial to gain their freedom.
  • On June 30, 1848, by unanimous decision, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Dred and Harriet Scott the right to a second trial to gain their freedom.
  • On January 12, 1850 a jury in the St. Louis Circuit Court granted Dred and Harriet Scott their freedom. Attorneys for the Scotts’ owner, Irene Emerson, filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court.
  • Before Irene Emerson’s second appeal before the Missouri Supreme Court, attorneys for both sides agreed that only Dred Scott’s case would be heard and that the court’s decision would apply to both Dred and Harriet Scott.
  • On March 22, 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision granting Dred and Harriet Scott their freedom.
  • Irene Emerson had moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, and married Dr. Calvin C. Chaffee, an outspoken opponent of slavery, in 1850.
  • On November 2, 1853, Dred Scott filed suit for his freedom in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri. John Sanford, Irene Chaffee’s brother, was named as the defendant in the case, but due to a clerical error in the filing procedure, the suit was listed as Scott v. Sandford.
  • In 1854, a jury in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri found in favor of John Sanford, denying Dred Scott his freedom.
  • After Dred Scott lost his 1854 case before the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri his attorneys appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
  • The United States Supreme Court case of Scott v. Sandford began in February 1856.
  • After hearing oral arguments in the case of Scott v. Sandford the United States Supreme Court called for the case to be reargued in December. The delay may have been prompted by concerns about forcing presidential candidates in the November election of 1856, to take a stand on whatever decision the court rendered.
  • A second round of oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Scott v. Sandford began on December 15, 1856.
  • When the justices of the United States Supreme Court met to discuss the case of Scott v. Sandford on February 14, 1857, they chose Justice Samuel Nelson to write the majority opinion.
  • Justice Samuel Nelson’s written opinion in the case of Scott v. Sandford, which ruled in favor of Sanford, did not address the more volatile issues of Negro citizenship and the constitutionality of Congressional regulation of slavery in the territories.
  • The majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court rejected Justice Samuel Nelson’s written opinion in the case of Scott v. Sandford. Instead, eight of the nine justices wrote separate opinions.
  • On March 6, 1857, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney read his judgment in the case of Scott v. Sandford, which a majority of the other justices adopted as the official opinion of the court.
  • Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case of Scott v. Sandford declared that Dred Scott was not entitled to bring suit in federal courts because neither he nor anyone else of African descent, whether slaves or freedmen, were citizens of the United States.
  • Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case of Scott v. Sandford declared that Congressional attempts to regulate slavery in U.S. territories were unconstitutional. Taney reasoned that Congress could not deprive white inhabitants of the territories of their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty, or property (including their slaves) without due process of law, any more than it could deny citizens of their First Amendment right to free speech.
  • Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case of Scott v. Sandford galvanized anti-slavery sentiment in the North and strengthened the emerging Republican Party. Northerners who previously viewed slavery as a peculiar institution of the South were aroused by speculation that if slaveowners could not be denied of their Fifth Amendment rights in the territories, then what was to stop them from bringing their human “property” to the North.
  • Dred and Harriet Scott escaped bondage in 1857 when Irene Chaffee transferred ownership of the slaves to the Blow family who then freed them.
  • Dred Scott lived less than a year and a half as a free man. He died on September 17, 1858 of tuberculosis. Harriet Scott died eighteen years later on June 17, 1876.

 

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Dred Scott v. Sandford Facts
  • Coverage 1856 - 1857
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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