Today, March 6, 1857: SCOTUS Rules Blacks Cannot be US Citizens

On March 3, I wrote about slavery first arriving in America with the British colonization of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 and followed it to the Missouri Compromise passed by Congress in 1820. The Compromise established which newly admitted states would be free states and which would be slave states. The Missouri Compromise was later repealed and replaced with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

But do you know what led up to that 1857 Supreme Court decision?

It all started with a black slave born around 1795 – 1800 by the name of Dred Scott. His owner, Peter Blow lived in Virginia, but later moved to Alabama. In 1830, Blow moved to St. Louis, taking Scott with him. In 1832, Blow died. Scott was then purchased by Dr. John Emerson.

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After purchasing Scott, Emerson moved to Illinois, a free state. They lived there for about two and half years before moving to the Wisconsin Territory, a free territory. While living in Wisconsin, Scott met a slave, Harriet Robinson, who was owed by the local justice of the peace. The two slaves were married and the justice of the peace transferred ownership of Robinson to Emerson.

After a couple of years in Wisconsin, Emerson moved to Louisiana after getting married. Scott and his bride remained in Wisconsin until Emerson sent for them. The two slaves traveled down the Mississippi River to Emerson’s new home.

In 1843, Dr. Emerson died. Scott tried to buy his and Harriot’s freedom from Emerson’s widow after she hired Scott out to an army captain, but the widow refused. Scott then decided to file a court case seeking his freedom, based upon the fact that he had lived a number of years in Illinois, a free state and Wisconsin, a free territory.

The first of Scott’s trial in Missouri began in June 1847 but ended badly for the slave when he could not provide documentation to prove that Emerson’s widow actually owned him and his wife. In 1849, the Missouri State Supreme Court ruled that Scott deserved to have his case retried. A year later in 1850, the court in St. Louis issued a ruling in which they declared Dred Scott and his family were free.

In 1852, the Missouri State Supreme Court took it upon themselves to overturn the decision of the St. Louis court and declared Scott and family were still slaves.

Scott and his attorney decided that they needed to take their case to the federal courts and filed their appeal with the US Circuit Court in Missouri. However, in 1854, the federal court upheld the decision of the state supreme court and the Scott family remained slaves.

In a last ditch effort to win his freedom, Scott and his attorney appealed to the US Supreme Court. Little did he know that the highest court in the land was stacked against him as seven of the nine justices were pro-slavery southerners. Arguments were presented to the Supreme Court in 1856.

On this date, March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issued the majority decision of the court in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Taney, a steadfast pro-slavery southerner, explained that since Scott was a black person and that blacks could not be citizens of the United States that Scott had no legal basis for filing his lawsuit.

In making their decision, the high court also declared that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, was unconstitutional in that Congress had no authority to restrict or prohibit slavery in new territories and states in the west.

At the time the Supreme Court ruled that blacks could not be US citizens, there were thousands of free blacks in the north that were citizens. Next to the Supreme Court decisions that removed God from our public schools and government, the Dred Scott decision is consider by many to be the worst and more horribly wrong decision ever issued by the highest court in the land.

The northern free states were extremely upset with the Supreme Court’s decision in 1857 in the Dred Scott case and many historians believe that they directed their anger with the court into the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. It is also believed that the Dred Scott decision played a key role in causing the American Civil War.

Even though Supreme Court left Scott and his family as slaves, they didn’t remain such for long. The sons of Peter Blow, Scott’s original owner, purchased the family and then gave them their freedom. Dred Scott was born a slave sometime between 1795 and 1800, but died a free man on September 17, 1858, only nine months after gaining his freedom.


Sources for the above include: Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott case; Dred Scott’s fight for freedom; Dred Scott v. Sandford; The Dred Scott Decision; The Dred Scott Case; Dred Scott Biography; Dred Scott decision; VIDEO – Today, March 3, 1820: Missouri Compromise Passed by Congress.


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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