Dred Scott Vs Sandford does Congress Have the Power to Limit Slavery
Does Congress Have the Power to Limit Slavery?
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
One of the most divisive issues facing the country in the 1850s was the question of slavery in the territories. The Missouri Compromise had banned slavery from some areas and allowed it in others. The Kansas-Nebraska Act left the question up to those people living in a territory. But if the Constitution allowed slavery to exist, did Congress have the power to take these actions?
The Facts The Issue The Decision
• Dred Scott, an
slave, was taken
north of the Missouri
Compromise line, where slavery was banned. Scott argued that
since he had lived
several years in a free state and several years in a free territory, he should be free. • The Court stated that temporary residence in a free territory did not make Scott free.
• It said that Scott was property, not a citizen, and therefore had no right to sue.
• It further reasoned that no African American could be a citizen.
• It stated that Congress could not ban slavery from any territory because doing so would take away slave owners’ property without due process of law.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Dred Scott decision deeply split an already divided country. Southerners applauded the Court for defending their rights to hold slaves. A South Carolina newspaper victoriously declared that the decision proves that “slavery is guaranteed by the constitutional compact.” Many in the North viewed the decision with dismay, however. Republicans wanted to block the spread of slavery, and the Court’s decision dashed their hopes. Abraham Lincoln expressed the fears of many that the Court would act even more boldly in the future. In an 1858 speech, he warned that the Court would next force slavery onto northern soil:
“We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their state free and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave state.”
By further inflaming both North and South, the Dred Scott decision took the nation one step closer to a civil war.
CONNECT TO YOUR WORLD
The Court has made other controversial decisions over the years. Examples are Engel v. Vitale (1962), Miranda v. Arizona (1966), Roe v. Wade (1973), Texas v. Johnson (1989), and Kelo v. New London (2005). Read about the Court’s decision in a controversial case and its aftermath.
Analyze how people with different points of view have responded to the decision.
Write an editorial agreeing or disagreeing with Chief Justice Roger B Taney’s decision/ position. Give support from your notes and knowledge of the Era.
Imagine you were Dred Scott, still alive at the time, write a letter to Justice Roger B. Taney- giving your opinion of his decision.