In the history of the United States, there are not many court cases that have caused a disturbance like the Dred Scott decision.
It took place at a time when America was actually "a Nation on the Brink" [Stampp] i. It was then a country with highly strained race relations that could explode into major crisis anytime now.
The various laws in the country decided where slavery was banned and where it was still legal and The Compromise of had served as a reminder in this connection. Slavery was a legal institution in the South but it was decided that if any slave could prove that he was a resident of an anti-slavery state, he would be freed.
The fight between Northern and Southern states on the subject of slavery intensified during presidential elections. And that is when the Dred Scott case emerged. Scott was born to slave parents and lived with his owners in St. He was later sold to Dr. John Emerson around and since Emerson was a military officer, he would travel all over the country frequently.
While some states had legalized slavery, Illinois was a free state and if Scott could prove his resident status, he could win his freedom. Scott decided to fight to become a free man and from till a decade later, his struggle continued and even reached the highest court of law in the United States.
Scott began his fight when he had become a property of Emerson's wife whom he complained would, "beat, bruised, and ill-treated him" and even imprisoned him for 12 hours. In a declaration filed by Scott, he tried to convince the courts that he could be counted as a citizen of a free state due to his extended stay in Fort Armstrong and Fort Snelling and thus should be granted freedom.
Scott was particularly inspired by the Missouri Supreme Court's Rachel v. Walker decision in which Rachel had been freed since she was found to be resident of Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien in Illinois. But there was a technical problem with Scott's case.
Even though there were precedents present, it was found that Scott did not qualify as a resident since he had moved back to slave states.
Thus his owner won the first trial. The case then moved to the Missouri Supreme Court in where 14 years ago, Rachel had been granted freedom.
But 14 years had made a huge difference, as Scott would later discover. The precedents had been set by "liberal-minded judges who were predisposed to favor freedom and whose opinions seemed to reflect the older view of enlightened southerners that slavery was, at best, a necessary evil.
And unfortunately for Scott, three judges were hearing his case, two of whom were proslavery. Graham decision had proved to be an unfortunate and unfavorable precedent.
The case then went to U. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri and thus entered the federal judicial system. By this time, Mrs. Emerson had remarried and her brother John Sanford now owned Scott. However by the time this case made its way to the federal judicial system, people had started suspecting the authenticity of the case and its purpose.
During the trial, it was not clear whether the two sides really wanted to win or were they just trying to make some kind of case for or against slavery. Don Fehrenbacher thus wrote: Sandford was either a genuine suit, or a counterfeit designed for abolitionist purposes, or part of a proslavery plot that succeeded.Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Opinions of the Judges Thereof, in the Case of Dred Scott versus John F.A.
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