Monday, March 6, 2017


JFK+50:  Volume 7, No. 2240


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 160 years ago today, March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney announced the majority decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott v Sandford*.

Dred Scott**, a slave who had been taken into the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin, was denied his freedom by the high court's ruling.
The Court upheld the right of slave owners to take their slaves into the western territories and in doing so nullified the popular sovereignty ruling in the Missouri Compromise of 1850.

The Chief Justice wrote...

"In the opinion of the court, the language used in the Declaration of Independence shows...that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants...were then acknowledged as part of the people..."

In other words, Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States under the Constitution and therefore was the property of his master.  The decision was met with anger by Northern Abolitionists while pleasing the slaveocracy of the South.

Along with other historians, David Thomas Konig calls Dred Scott v Sandford the United States Supreme Court's worst decision.

*Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) began in the lower court of St. Louis County in 1856.  Three counts levied against John F.A. Sanford^, then owner of DS, included assaults on Dred Scott, his wife & two children.  The lower court found Mr. Sanford Not Guilty & declared that the Scott family was his property.  

When the names were originally entered into the court records, Mr. Sanford's name was misspelled and left uncorrected.

^John F.A. Sanford (1806-1857) attended West Point & clerked in the St. Louis Office of Indian Affairs under William Clark.  He became wealthy in the mining, railroad & mercantile industries. JFAS suffered a mental breakdown & was admitted to an asylum where he died.

**Dred Scott (1777-1859) was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia.  He was sold to US Army surgeon John Emerson & after his owner's death, DS filed for his freedom in a St. Louis court based on the argument that he had lived in states where slavery was illegal. 


"Dred Scott," On This Day,

"Dred Scott v. Sandford," FindLaw, 

Dred Scott (1888)
Portrait by Louis Schultze
Missouri History Museum
Missouri Historical Society