The Dred Scott Case had a huge impact on the United States as it is today. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments have called it the worst Supreme Court decision ever rendered and was later overturned. The Dred Scott Decision was a key case regarding the issue of slavery; the case started as a slave seeking his rightful freedom and mushroomed into a whole lot more.65
The reason why Dred Scott decided to pursue his freedom is unknown, but there are a couple theories. For example, it is believed that most likely, Scott decided to bring his case to court after years of talks with other slaves that had done the same. (Herda, 30) This shows that, Scott was not an ignorant, uninformed man and had reason to believe he could obtain freedom for himself and his family. This also shows that he took a long look at the issue before making the decision to sue for his freedom. In addition, he may have also been convinced by several talks with his old friends, the Blows, who were sympathetic to his troubles. (Herda, 30) This shows that his previous owners, turned friends, the Blows, may have been a major influence; being Scotts staunch supporters throughout his life. This also shows that the Blows encouragement, on top of other slaves actions, may have been what finally convinced Scott to pursue the suit for his freedom. In conclusion, several factors convinced Scott to sue for his freedom including the opinion of his previous owners, the Blows.188
It is also possible that his original lawyer Samuel Mansfield Bay saw opportunities for a large reward due to his services to Scott, and initiated litigation. For example, some feel that Bays object was to pave the way for a suit against the Emerson estate for the twelve years wages to which Scott would be entitled to, (Herda, 29) should he win the case. This shows that, money could have been the driving force behind this case. This also shows that Scott may have been persuadable to another persons reasons for pursuing the case. In addition, if this was true and Scott had been illegally held as a slave since 1834. (Herda, 30) This shows that, he would have the right to compensation, and therefore be entitled to what would be a lot of money. This also shows, how a mistake by a master in his traveling with a slave into free states could invoke a slaves freedom and cost the master years of wages, even time subsequently spent in Missouri, a slave state. In conclusion, this case could have been started for monetary reasons, but the initial decision appeared to be made based on the case being controversial in many areas beyond monetary considerations.
The decision from the first case was reached in just one day, rather expeditiously for a case, which took fourteen months to get to trial; yet there were valid reason. For Example, the judge ruled, the testimony could not prove that Irene Emerson owned Dred Scott. (Lukes, 21) This shows that the burden of proof was on Dred Scott to prove his ownership, in order to have a ruling on his freedom. This also shows how one tiny oversight by one side can affect the outcome of a case. In addition, the record indicated, The said defendant is not guilty in manner and form as the plaintiff hath in his declaration complained against her. (Lukes 22) This shows that because of Scotts attorneys error in argument, the court had to rule in favor of Mrs. Emerson. This also shows that in a strange twist of fate, in effect, allowed Mrs. Emerson to keep her slaves because no one had proven they were her slaves. In conclusion, Dred Scott had lost in the first court appearance, but the case was far from over.182
Scotts second set of attorneys, Alexander P. Field and David N. Hall filed the appeal in hopes of another hearing being denied, so the case could be elevated to the United States Supreme Court. For Example, they used only previously introduced arguments, neither Scotts nor Sanfords lawyers called any witnesses or introduced any evidence that had not already been presented to the court. (Herda, 42) This shows that the lawyers viewed the appeal as an empty gesture, just a stepping-stone in the case. This also showed how lawyers could manipulate the judicial system, to reach a desired outcome. In addition, the appeals court did not question the attorneys poor effort to win the appeal, As expected Judge Wells declined a motion for a new trial. (Herda, 42) This shows that the judge did not see the larger picture. This also shows how the court can trivialize major issues causing the issues to escalate. In conclusion, the attorneys threw the case, so a second loss could lead to a win access to the United States Supreme Court. 176
Once before the Supreme Court, Scotts fourth attorney, Montgomery Blair, found himself facing a reluctant court. For example, he had to prove to the chief justices that, Scott had a right to be free because he had lived in Illinois, a free state. (Herda, 50) This shows that the court was reticent to entertain the notion that a slave could be free. This also shows that the court wanted to avoid expanding the ability to declare slaves free. In addition to Mr. Blairs stance that Scotts time in free states freed him from slavery, Mr. Blairs argument incorporated a prior ruling which he hoped would influence the Supreme Court to rule that free Negros were United States citizens, It concentrated on winning a point that the lower court had already agreed was valid that free Negros were citizens and, thus, qualified to bring a suit in Federal Court. (Herda, 50) This shows that, while Scotts attorney thought he was ingenious in introducing a prior ruling, the Supreme Court used the wording of the decision to find that the state courts had no authority to hear the matter, so the case should be dismissed entirely, then nullified the validity of the finding in regard to the Federal Court. This also shows that, interpretation is the key to the law and can work for or against a case, and can allow for biased decisions. In conclusion, Scotts attorney was trying to use a lower court finding to influence the upper courts ruling, and found that the court one upped him, and used the ruling against him in an unexpected manner, then blocked his ability to argue the matter any further in Federal courts. 282
The Supreme Courts ruling in 1857 came as a surprise to some and a relief to others, in that the court found a loophole to avoid having to hear the Dred Scott Case, and even declare the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. For Example, Chief Justice Taney wrote in his decision that it is adjudged by this court that the judgment of said Circuit Court in this cause be and the same is hereby reversed. (SD) This shows that the Supreme Court was willing to be critical of Missouri courts, but the ruling did not find Missouri wrong in their conclusion, only in their belief that they had jurisdiction to hear the matter. This also shows that, they had decided, without reviewing the facts, that Dred Scott should not be free. In addition, he wrote the case is hereby remanded to the same Circuit Court with directions to dismiss the case for the lack of jurisdiction in that court. (SD) This shows that, Chief Justice Taney and the others had decided that finding the other court had no ability to rule as it had was all they needed to address. This also shows, how in a bias court (pro-slavery) that a decision could be tainted. In conclusion, the Supreme Court decided Dred Scott could remain a slave, and that they did not support the limiting of slavery. 225
In Conclusion, the Dred Scott Decision took a long drawn out journey through the court system to be literally, and figuratively dismissed. It addressed a subject, which was not popular, freedom for slaves, and went through several courts, without receiving any merit. While it is not a well-known case, it is on point as to the conflicts over slavery, and how they led to the Civil War. It has been considered the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court, and for good reason.84
Herda, D.J. The Dred Scott Case: Slavery and Citizenship
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey Enslow Publishers, 1994.
Lukes, Bonnie. The Dred Scott Decision San Diego, California,
Lucent Books, 1997
URL : http://www.nara.gov/exhall/originals/scott.html