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Dred Scott Decision

James Buchanan

Dred Scott Decision: James Buchanan was the 15th American President who served in office from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861. One of the important events during his presidency was the Dred Scott Decision.

Definition and Summary of the Dred Scott Decision
Summary and definition:
The Dred Scott Decision was  landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 1857 that effectively ruled that slaves were property. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 ruled that enslaved African-Americans were property and had no rights.

That freed African-Americans were not citizens and had no right to sue in a federal court. In addition, the ruling of the Dred Scott Decision found that Congress could not prohibit slavery from spreading into the western territories. This decision invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had placed restrictions on slavery in certain U.S. territories.

Dred Scott for kids: The Origin of the Name
The Sam Scott adopted the first name "Dred" in memory of his brother who had died. The name is a derivation of the boy's name 'Eldred'. The name was a common medieval name and  had its origins in Old English.
There was a revival of the name in the 19th century America. The name increased in popularity in the 20th Century. The full name of the famous movie star Gregory Peck, is Eldred Gregory Peck.

The Owners of Dred Scott
Dred Scott was an African-American slave born in the slave-state of Virginia. His first owner was Peter Blow and Sam was raised alongside the sons of Peter Blow, who would later help in his quest for freedom. Peter Blow died in 1832 and Dred Scott was sold to
Dr. John Emerson, an army surgeon. Dr. Emerson died in 1843 and his widow, Eliza Irene Emerson, inherits his slaves. Eliza Irene Emerson re-marries and in 1850 transfers ownership of Dred Scott and his family to her brother, John Sanford.

Dred Scott for kids: Moved from state to state
Dred Scott was moved from state to state according to the will and circumstances of his owners. His places of residence were as follows:
Virginia (a slave state), Alabama (a slave state), Missouri (a slave state), Fort Armstrong, Illinois (a free state), Fort Snelling, territory of Wisconsin (a free state), Jefferson Barracks Military Post, Missouri (a slave state), Fort Jesup in Louisiana (a free state) and St. Louis, Missouri (a slave state).

Slavery was illegal in some states and territories
Harriet and Dred Scott therefore lived and were rented as slaves in states and territories where slavery was illegal according to the state laws, the terms of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the provisions of the Missouri Compromise.

Dred Scott sues for Freedom
Dred Scott attempted to sue for his freedom because he had been taken by his owners to free states and territories.

Dred Scott for kids: The Hiring-out System
Whilst Dred Scott
and his wife Harriet were forced to move from one location to the next they were often temporarily leased out, or rented, to 'hirers' under the Hiring-out System. The Hiring-out System was a common practice of Southern slave owners which generated revenue from the labor of slaves, rather than taking the permanent option of selling them. The Hiring-out System was a convenient option for Dr. Emerson who was able to move around as his work required and continuously hire out his slaves, whether they were with him or not. However, under the Hiring-out System Harriet and Dred Scott were allowed to keep a small part of the payment for their services and save to buy their freedom.

Dred Scott Decision for kids: Dred Scott attempts to buy his freedom
Over the course of many years Dred Scott saved enough money to buy his freedom and also purchase the freedom of his wife and two daughters. He approached his owner,
Eliza Irene Emerson, but she refused to sell each time she was asked. The slaves were her property and she had the right to make the sole decision as to whether they should be sold, or not.

Dred Scott Decision for kids: Filing Suit For His Freedom
As his owner had refused his offer to buy his freedom Dred Scott
had no alternative but to resort to the legal route. He was aided in his quest by Abolitionists, who included the sons of his original owner, Peter Blow. Filing suit for his freedom was a complicated and stressful process. The case was based on they had lived for extended periods in a free territory, and he had lived in a free state.

Dred Scott Decision for kids: Timeline of Dred Scott Court Cases
The Timeline of Dred Scott Court Cases with the dates of the cases, the courts and the appeals are detailed as follows:

April 6, 1846: Harriet and Dred Harriet Scott file petitions in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, Missouri in Scott v. Emerson

June 30, 1847: Mrs. Emerson wins the case. The suit was dismissed on a technicality, Dred Scott was unable to prove he was owned by Mrs. Emerson

January 12, 1850 Re-trial: Dred Scott is granted his freedom. Eliza Irene Emerson files an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court

March 22, 1852: The Missouri Supreme Court reverse the previous ruling and the Scotts are returned to slavery

November 2, 1853: Dred Scott sues John Sanford and appeals to the United States Circuit Court in Missouri, which upholds the Missouri Supreme Courtís decision (Scott v. Sanford)

May 15, 1854: The case of Dred Scott comes to trial (Scott v. Sanford) verdict in favor of John Sanford is appealed to the United States Supreme Court

February 11, 1856: First argument before the US Supreme Court

December 15, 1856: Second argument before the US Supreme Court

March 6, 1857: The US Supreme Court rules that slaves were property and had no rights, that freed African-Americans were not citizens and had no right to sue in a federal court and that Congress could not prohibit slavery from spreading into the western territories.

Dred Scott Decision: Court Case Facts
The arguments presented in the Dred Scott court cases claimed that:

  • His presence and residence in free territories and free states required his emancipation

  • When the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision, the Missouri state precedent was overturned

  • The Missouri Supreme Court held that Dred Scott was legally a slaves and should have sued for freedom whilst living in a free state

Dred Scott Decision: The Supreme Court Ruling
The Dred Scott Decision in the Supreme Court ruling was that:

  • The United States Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction on the matters raised in the case

  • The Court also held that the 5th Amendment barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, even in a free territory

The decision of the United States Supreme Court, delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, put an end to all hope of compromise on the issue of slavery. Dred Scott had been born a slave and the majority of the Supreme Court judges pronounced that a person, once a slave, could never become a citizen of the United States nor bring suit in the United States courts. They also declared that the Missouri Compromise was unlawful and that the owners of slaves had a clear right to carry their property, including slaves, into the territories, and that Congress could not stop them.

Significance of the Dred Scott Decision
The significance of the Dred Scott Decision was that:

  • Anti-slavery groups feared that slavery would spread unchecked

  • The anti-slavery leaders in the North were furious and attacked the decision of the Supreme Court with great ferocity

  • The newly formed Republican Party, renewed their efforts to gain control of the Congress

  • The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Abraham Lincoln forced Stephen Douglas into an open debate about the Dred Scott Case. Abraham Lincoln subsequently won the 1860 presidential election

  • The Dred Scott Decision was one of the Causes of the Civil War

  • The Civil War raged from 1861-1865.

Dred Scott Decision: Biography and Life Timeline and Facts for kids
Interesting Dred Scott Facts, Biography and Timeline for kids are detailed below. The history, biography and the life of Sam ďDredĒ Scott is told in a factual biography timeline sequence consisting of a series of short facts providing a simple method of relating the famous people and events involved in the court case. 

1795: Sam Scott was born an African-American slave, in Southampton County, Virginia (a slave state). His owner was Peter Blow and Sam is brought up with the sons of Peter Blow, the Blow family move from Virginia to Alabama and then on to Missouri

1820: Peter Blow moves to Missouri, a slave state

1832:  Peter Blow dies and Dred Scott is sold to Dr. John Emerson, an army surgeon and later taken to live at Fort Armstrong, Illinois (a free state)

1836:  Dr. John Emerson moves from Illinois to Fort Snelling in the slave-free territory of Wisconsin, taking his slaves with him.

1836:  Sam's brother dies and Sam chooses to take his brother's name Dred in remembrance

1836: Dred marries Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by another army doctor, at Fort Snelling

1837: Dr. Emerson is receives orders to move to Jefferson Barracks Military Post, St. Louis, Missouri. He leaves Harriet and Dred Scott at Fort Snelling where they are temporarily leased to a hirer under the 'Hiring-out System'

1837: Dr. Emerson is reassigned to Fort Jesup in Louisiana (a free state)

1838: February 1837 - Dr. John Emerson marries Eliza Irene Sanford and sends for his slaves to join them in Louisiana

1838: En route to Louisiana, Dred's first daughter Eliza was born on a steamboat on the Mississippi River between the Iowa Territory and Illinois. Eliza was therefore technically born as a free person under both federal and state laws as she was born in free territory.

1838: At the end of the year the Army re-assigns Dr. Emerson back to Fort Snelling in the territory of Wisconsin and, once again, everyone moves

1840: Dr. Emerson serves in the Seminole War and Mrs. Eliza Irene Emerson returns, with the slaves, to St. Louis, Missouri, where the Scotts are again leased to hirers

1842: The birth of Dred's second daughter, Lizzie

1842: Dr. Emerson leaves the army

1843:  Dr. John Emerson dies and his widow, Eliza Irene Emerson inherits his slaves. Dred Scott attempts to purchase his freedom from Mrs. Emerson, but she refuses his request and continues to lease out the Scotts

1846:  He again attempts to buy his freedom and again Mrs. Emerson refuses his request. With the help of the Abolitionist Movement, he resorts to the legal route and files for the freedom of himself and his family

1846:  Dred and Harriet Scott file petitions in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, Missouri in Scott v. Emerson

1847:  The Scotts lose their first trial on June 30, 1847.  In the case, Scott v. Emerson, the defendant, Eliza Irene Emerson wins. But the presiding judge, Alexander Hamilton, provides Dred Scott with a retrial.

1850:  Dred Scott wins his second trial on January 12, 1850. As a result, Eliza Irene Emerson files an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court.

1850: Eliza Irene Emerson remarries. The name of new husband was Calvin C. Chaffee, an abolitionist, who shortly after their marriage was elected to the U.S. Congress first as a member of the Know Nothing party and was re-elected to Congress as a Republican in 1856

1850: Eliza Irene Emerson Chaffee transfers ownership of the Scotts to her brother, John F. A. Sanford

1852:  The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the previous ruling of the lower court which Dred Scott had won and on  March 22, 1852 the Scotts are returned to slavery

1853: Dred Scott sues John Sanford for his freedom in a federal court

1854: The jury found in favor of John Sanford and Dred Scott appeals to United States Supreme Court

1857:  March 6, 1857 - The United States Supreme Court ruling was handed down on March 6, 1857. Chief Justice Roger Taney gave the opinion of the court declaring that Dred Scott was a slave. The decision implied that a slave was his masterís property even in free states.

1857: Dred Scott and his family are purchased by the family of Peter Blow, the original owner of Dred Scott. The case made headlines throughout the nation

1857:  On May 26, 1857 Henry Taylor Blow granted Dred Scott and his family their freedom.

1857:  Dred obtained work as a porter in Barnumís Hotel, St. Louis, Missouri

1858:  He died of tuberculosis on September 17, 1858. His wife, Harriet, died 18 years later on June 17, 1876

1858: The  Supreme court's decision, and  its impact on enslavement, is a point of focus during the Lincoln-Douglas debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln receives enough support to win the presidential election

The decision was nullified in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the post-Civil War 13th Amendment, 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment

Dred Scott Decision - Racial Discrimination and Segregation
For additional facts about racial discrimination and segregation refer to detailed information on Black Segregation History and for brief, fast facts refer to the Segregation History Timeline.

Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource  for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.

US American History
1850-1865: Secession Era

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