Key Facts & Summary:
- In the Dred Scott case, the US Supreme Court held that slaves residing in a free state were not entitled to freedom
- The suit also found that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that declared all territories west of Missouri and north of latitude 36°30 as free land was unconstitutional
Facts of the Case
Dred Scott, was a slave in Missouri and from 1833 to 1843 he was a resident of Illinois, a free state in the Louisiana Territory where slavery was banned by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He returned to Missouri and filed a suit in court for his freedom. He lost the case as the court held that moving to a free state did not render a negro emancipated. Scott appealed to the Federal court. Scott master maintained that no negro or descendant of slaves could be a citizen in the sense of Article III of the Constitution.
The decision of the Court
The court, was a nine-Judge bench with Justice Taney, Mclean, Wayne, Carton, Daniel, Nelson, Grier, Curtis and Campbell. The decision of the Court was 7 – 2 for Sanford, the respondent. The majority held that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into the US and sold as slaves, whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore did not have the legal standing to sue in federal court. Justice Taney, therefore, dismissed the case on the technical grounds of procedure.
Taney, also held that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional and cautioned Congress against freeing slaves within Federal territories. He further ruled that slaves were property under the Fifth Amendment and any law that would deprive a slave owner of that property was unconstitutional.
In dissent, Benjamin Robbins Curtis criticised Taney for providing judgement over the substance of the cause even after concluding that the court lacked jurisdiction because negros do not have legal standing in Federal Courts. He further stated that invalidating the Missouri Compromise was unnecessary and that the founding fathers were opposed to slavery and not anti-slavery laws.
Justice John Mclean agreed with Curtis in finding that majority were wrong to assert themselves on the substance of the case having found that the Court lacked jurisdiction. He further stated that slaves could be citizens of the US because they already had the right to vote in five states.