U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War

There were many factors which led to the start of the Civil War. However, one of the most famous contributors was a 1856 U.S. Supreme Court case known as Dred Scott v Stanford. The ruling on this case angered many occupants of Northern states. It was a single decision which eventually led to thousands of brutal deaths. This ruling would cause brother to slay brother without conscious or forethought.

How Did Missouri law prompt the Dred Scott Suit?

Missouri was of the first states to institute a law which would help pave the way to free the slaves. The state passed a law stating that any person who was wrongfully enslaved or imprisoned could sue for his or her freedom. This statement did not exclude those of African descent.

Who was Dred Scott?

Dred Scott was a pre-Civil War slave. He belonged to a US army surgeon by the name of Dr. Emerson. The doctor traveled with his slaves while performing his service to the army. They often ventured into “free states”, which were states that did not condone the horrific practice of slavery.

During the summer of 1836, Scott met a young lady named Harriet Robinson. The pair quickly fell in love and begged for permission to marry. Robinson, who was also a slave, belonged to the army officer Lawrence Taliaferro. After careful consideration Emerson and Taliaferro decided to grant the couple’s request. Robinson’s ownership was handed over to Dr. Emerson so that the husband and wife could remain together in slavery. In 1840, less than two years later, Harriet gave birth to a daughter named Eliza. The Scotts had started a family.

In 1842, Dr. Emerson married Irene Sanford. The couple, along with their slaves, settled in Missouri. In 1843, just one year after their wedding, the doctor passed away. All his possessions were left to his beloved wife. This included his slaves. Scott promptly offered to buy his freedom along with that of his family. However, the widow refused. She wanted to maintain ownership of the slaves.

Scott longed for freedom, a basic human right that was wrongfully taken from him and his family. As a result, he sought the help of a local attorney. A case was filed on his behalf in 1846. It was heard in 1847. Scott was defeated. However, he was granted a retrial on the grounds of hearsay.

For the next four years the Scott family would be at the mercy of the court. In 1850 they finally tasted some victory. The Missouri jury declared that Scott and Harriet should be freed. This decision was founded on the fact that the couple was held as slaves while in Wisconsin and Illinois which were free states. Keeping them bound when in free territory was believed to be an illegal act which constituted false imprisonment.

Irene Sanford was extremely dissatisfied with this ruling. She felt it was unjust. As a result, she appealed the court’s decision. The case then found itself in the Missouri Supreme Court. In 1952, the higher court overturned the lower court’s ruling stating “Times now are not as they were when the previous decisions on this subject were made.” They continued to say that the idea of “Once free, always free” was no longer an embraced concept. If the Scotts wanted freedom they should have filed suit in Wisconsin. This ruling upset a barrage of people as it defied over 28 years of precedence.

Dred and Harriet were forced to return to Mrs. Stanford. However, their court battle would continue. It was determined that the case should be heard in the federal courts. This determination was decided because when Dr. Emerson passed away his estate was actually left to his brother-in-law, John Sanford, who lived in New York. This fact construed diverse citizenship.

Once again the Scotts filed a new suit. This time their battle would be in the federal courts. They tragically lost their case, again.

Exhausted but not beaten, the Scotts filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court. This, they feared would be their last hope for freedom. It was a chance they felt compelled to take.

In 1857, the US Supreme Court delivered a ruling which confirmed the Scott’s worst fears. They were denied freedom yet again. The court ruled that any person of African descent was not a US citizen. Therefore, they were not covered by the same protections and laws. It also concluded that the Ordinance of 1787 could not provide freedom or citizenship to non-white individuals. Lastly, it was derived that the act of 1820, also known as Missouri Compromise, was not a legitimate legislative act because it went outside the powers and limitations of Congress. In the end, the US Supreme Court had decided that African Americans had no justified right to be granted freedom or citizenship.

The Scotts were returned to Irene Sanford. She later married an abolitionist by the name of Calvin C. Chaffee who was elected to congress. His wife’s ownership of slaves was a great embarrassment. As a result, the Scotts were returned to former owners, the Blows. They were finally granted freedom shortly thereafter.

The US Supreme Court ruling in Scott v Stanford drew vast attention to the disgusting, racist views against African Americans and to the inhumane treatment of slaves. It also caused many individuals to question the current laws of their time. The southern states upheld slavery, using the excuse that they needed their imprisoned workers to maintain their way of life. However, the Northern states recognized this as a vile practice. As a result, the nation was divided in their opinions.

What came next was the horrific war of brother verses brother. This was known as the American Civil War. The fighting ensued for four long years. Both sides suffered great loss and brutal blood shed. It was a time of shared heartache and extensive sorrow. Homes were destroyed and families torn apart. Death became a way of life.

This savage battle ended in 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln signed an abolishment of slavery. The nation had endured vast hardship. It had also learned valuable lessons.

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