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Dred Scott v. Sandford

Citation. 19 How. (60 U.S.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857)
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Citation. 19 How. (60 U.S.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857)

Brief Fact Summary.

Dred Scott, a slave belonging to a U.S army surgeon, Emerson, claimed his freedom when Emerson died. Emerson’s widow, however, refused his freedom and Scott sued.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property is not warranted by the Constitution because it deprives the slaveholders of their property without due process of law.


Dred Scott was a slave belonging to a U.S army surgeon, Emerson. He was brought by Emerson to Illinois, a free state. Scott returned to Missouri with his wife. When Emerson died, Scott attempted to purchase his freedom from Emerson’s widow but she refused. Scott sued arguing that his residence in Wisconsin – where Congress had prohibited slavery b law – for two years made him free.


Can a black person, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed by the Constitution and enjoy all the constitutional rights granted to U.S citizens?


No, because black people imported as slaves are not included, and were not intended to be included under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and thus cannot claim any of the rights and privileges provided by the U.S Constitution. While the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and shall enjoy life and liberty, the general words were not intended to include the enslaved African race.


Justice Curtis

The institution of slavery must be created by positive laws. It was the Framers‘ intention to leave the discretion of Congress what regulations should be made concerning slavery therein. At the time of the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, all free native-born inhabitants, though descended from African slaves, were citizens of the States.


The slave trade and fugitive slave clauses in the Constitution point directly and specifically to the negro race as a separate class of persons and show clearly that they were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed. The Constitution was not intended to confer on them the blessings of liberty or any personal rights provided for the citizen. Because Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the Constitution of the U.S, he is not entitled to sue in its courts.

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