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Dred Scott v. Sandford

    Citation. 60 U.S. 393, 15 L. Ed. 691, 1856 U.S. 19 HOW 393.

    Brief Fact Summary. A slave sought his freedom under the Missouri Compromise.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Slaves are not citizens under the United States Constitution.


    Facts. Dred Scott (Plaintiff) was a slave living in the slave state of Missouri. His owner took him to Illinois and then to Minnesota, which were both free states under the Missouri Compromise. Plaintiff and his owner returned to Missouri, and Plaintiff was sold to Sanford (Defendant). Plaintiff sued Defendant for his freedom, claiming to be a citizen of Missouri, based on having obtained freedom by domicile for a long period in a free state.

    Issue. Can a slave be considered a citizen and as such become entitled to all the rights, privileges and immunities granted to citizens under the United States Constitution?

    Held. No.  Slaves were not intended to be included under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution. At the time the Constitution was written, slaves were considered an inferior and subordinate class. No state can introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution.  The Declaration of Independence clearly never intended to include slaves.

    The Constitution never intended to confer on slaves or their posterity the blessings of liberty, or any of the personal rights so carefully provided for the citizen. Plaintiff is clearly not a citizen and not entitled to sue.  An act of Congress, which deprives a citizen of his property merely because he brought his property into a particular part of the United States does not comport with due process of law. The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. An act of Congress, which prohibits a citizen from owning slaves in any territory in the United States is void. So, Plaintiff did not become free by going into a state, which prohibited slavery.

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    Discussion. This case is remembered for the decision that blacks were not citizens, but merely property. It is also remembered for voiding the Missouri Compromise.

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