Dred Scott v. Sandford

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Born a slave in Virginia, Dred Scott had lived in both slave states and free states before appealing to the Supreme Court to grant him his freedom.

The Court, in an opinion written by the staunchly pro-slavery Chief Justice Roger Taney, denied Scott his request, declaring that all blacks, slaves as well as free, were not and never could be citizens of the United States. 

Taney wrote that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. As such, neither Dred Scott nor any other black person could sue in federal court.

The decision was a prime factor leading to the Civil War. It was eventually rendered moot by the 14th Amendment, which provides that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of the nation and of his or her state.

 

 Dred Scott v. Sandford

 

60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1856)

Syllabus

1. Upon a writ of error to a Circuit Court of the United States, the transcript of the record of all the proceedings in the case is brought before the court, and is open to inspection and revision.

2. When a plea to the jurisdiction, in abatement, is overruled by the court upon demurrer, and the defendant pleads in bar, and upon these pleas the final judgment of the court is in his favor -- if the plaintiff brings a writ of error, the judgment of the court upon the plea in abatement is before this court, although it was in favor of the plaintiff -- and if the court erred in overruling it, the judgment must be reversed, and a mandate issued to the Circuit Court to dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction.

3. In the Circuit Courts of the United States, the record must show that the case is one in which, by the Constitution and laws of the United States, the court had jurisdiction -- and if this does not appear, and the judgment must be reversed by this court -- and the parties cannot be consent waive the objection to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court.

4. A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.

5. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its "people or citizens." Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being "citizens" within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit.

6. The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.

7. Since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, no State can by any subsequent law make a foreigner or any other description of persons citizens of the United States, nor entitle them to the rights and privileges secured to citizens by that instrument.

8. A State, by its laws passed since the adoption of the Constitution, may put a foreigner or any other description of persons upon a footing with its own citizens as to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by them within its dominion and by its laws. But that will not make him a citizen of the United States, nor entitle him to sue in its courts, nor to any of the privileges and immunities of a citizen in another State.

9. The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.

10. The plaintiff having admitted, by his demurrer to the plea in abatement, that his ancestors were imported from Africa and sold as slaves, he is not a citizen of the State of Missouri according to the Constitution of the United States, and was not entitled to sue in that character in the Circuit Court.

11. This being the case, the judgment of the court below in favor of the plaintiff on the plea in abatement was erroneous.

To read the full opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, go to Nolos US Supreme Court Center.

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