Dred Scott V. Sandford: a Great Case for America
Even though Dred Scott v. Sandford is looked at to be the most controversial court case in American history, it is known better for what it led to after its controversial decision. Dred Scott, an African American slave, was bought by his owners and taken to free states but was never given his freedom. Scott decided to sue for his freedom in court against John Sandford, the executor of his estate. In 1857, nine Supreme Court justices ruled, in a seven to two decision written by Roger B. Taney, that Dred Scott’s request was denied and he was not allowed to sue for his freedom. Scott’s case was in Missouri, which had a big impact on the decision because Missouri was a slave state and the people there were biased about slavery.
Dred Scott’s case was the starting point for the end of slavery as it caught people’s attention both in the North and the South. The North started to worry that because of this case, slavery might expand into the free territories and states and they needed someone who wouldn’t let slavery expand. This decision also impacted the North and the South because they both had a very different views on this case and America was beginning to become very split on the topic of slavery. The African Americans were also affected as people started caring more about how they were treated and if they were citizens. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was a great court case for America because it led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and changes for slaves and African Americans.
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Dred Scott was born in 1795 in Virginia. He served for his master in the South until his master died where he was then bought and served in two free states working for multiple owners. In his time switching from owner to owner in the free states, he realized that he should be able to become free and not work for anyone if he is in what they refer to as the “free states”. In this time, Dred Scott had married and had a family. After he married, he tried to buy freedom for him and his family but later failed. In 1856, He took his case to the Missouri courts where he won his freedom but only to have it be taken away at the Supreme Court. One year later, Dred Scott died and would never see how his case would change America for the better.
One reason the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was important of America was that it helped Abraham Lincoln, who would later abolish slavery, become President of the United States. Dred Scott was a big factor in getting President Lincoln elected because of the fear that the decision of the Dred Scott Case put in the North. The free states of the North were getting scared because the “Dred Scott decision also opened new U.S territories to Slavery. This fueled fear in the North that slave states would eventually out number free states.”1 The North still had slaves but the majority of the people did not and were against the idea. The North started to panic and wanted to find someone who was not only hard on slavery, but wanted to get rid of it forever. They found a young congressman named Abraham Lincoln. They did not just find Lincoln out of the blue, however, he was a congressman but he was not yet popular and respected like many other congressman. Lincoln felt very strongly on the topic of slavery and “was “pledged” to a belief in the right and duty of congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories.”2 The North felt very confident in Lincoln as his strong beliefs would make sure that slavery did not expand in to the north.
The Dred Scott decision gave confidence in the south that slavery would become more impactful and that the south would have a bigger control in running this country because they knew that the Supreme Court was on their side and that people who were for slavery outnumbered those who were not.
Lincoln knew the North was scared of the south’s push to control the country but Lincoln “assured followers that he had “many assurances”…from the south that in no probable event will there be any very formidable effort to break up the union.”3 This was a very smart thing for Lincoln to say because he gave confidence in the North which led to Lincoln getting their vote in the election. Not only was Lincoln strong with challenging the idea of slavery and making sure that it didn’t spread north, he also followed the Dred Scott case head on. Being a lawyer, he knew that this case was not right and it was not what America stood for. It was Lincoln’s “overridable obligation to follow Dred Scott because of its source.”4 This was a big part of why Lincoln got elected because the people wanted someone who knew what was going on with the country and could deal with the problem at hand. Lincoln talked about the Dred Scott case a lot in his speeches and it was one of Lincoln’s main focal point on how African Americans being mistreated in our country had to stop now if America wanted to be united again.
As Lincoln said in his speeches, he believed that congress had to work together and everyone had to agree for it to succeed. What Lincoln meant was that everyone had to agree or disagree but if they were divided then the country would not succeed. Lincoln believed that all of the country had to have slaves or not have slaves, that was the only way this country was going to survive.
Lincoln’s ability to understand the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, his great confidence and knowledge of how to communicate with people of the North, and his strong ability to fight slavery “undoubtedly politicized northern voters and helped elect President Lincoln in 1860.”5
Another reason why the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was great for America was that it led to the Civil War, where America was able to fight out its problems with slavery and other problems that were going on in America at the time and get them resolved so America was able to move on as a country and become stronger. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case split the country worse than it had ever been split and it was the breaking point in the already hostile American environment.
Slavery was the biggest issue back in the 1850’s to 1860’s because at that time, America was split evenly between whether America should have slaves or not have slaves. The South believed that they should have slaves and that no one should be able to tell them that they couldn’t have them. They grew up on the idea of slaves so to them, having slaves was normal. The North, on the other hand, believed that there should be no slaves at all and all of the enslaved African Americans should be freed. They believed that this was wrong and America should not have slavery in it.
The South did not like this and wanted to fight to break away from the union to form their own country where they would be able to have slaves. Dred Scott was not the only reason of the Civil War, as America had been fighting about slavery a long time before the Dred Scott case, but it was definitely a huge part of it and to this day it is one of the most important decisions ever because the “Dred Scott ruling put the nation on an inevitable path to the civil war.”6 Before this case, America was going to continue to fight but take no action against each other because both sides knew that once they did, the country would be destroyed. However, when this decision was made the north and south knew that the only way they were ever going to settle the slavery debate was if they went to war over it.
The North knew that this case was not fair and it was “contrived and fictitious, that it resulted from the maneuverings of money-seeking lawyers.”7 The North knew that this was a reason to go to war. This country had become people siding with the South and the idea of slavery because that’s what they grew up doing and controlling their decisions off of what they believed rather than what was right. The country was turning in a bad direction as the mistreatment of slaves was becoming a common thing.
Growing up, even if someone was born in the North, people would always be around other people who hated African Americans no matter where you went. Even someone who worked in the Supreme Court, that decided decisions for America, would be for slavery and side with the South. When you are on the Supreme Court, whether you are Republican or Democrat, you are supposed to do what’s right for the American people and not what’s right for yourself. “A defense of slavery became the essential condition of constitutional government and national unity in the United States.”8 For the Supreme Court Justices, it was more about slavery then serving justice and that’s what caught the North’s attention and people who really believed that blacks should be free and not slaves. The Supreme Court knew that if they were to have the decision go in Dred Scott’s way and he would be able to become free, they would get a lot of hateful things said about them and they would be changing the world forever, but because of most people around them that were for slavery, they chose to be in favor of it because that is what most people wanted. “The controversies over the future of slavery unduly influenced the court, leading to a decision that stood on shaky legal grounds.”9 The Supreme Court didn’t want to make a decision favoring the thing that people didn’t want so therefore, they decided to go with the popular opinion instead of the right decision.
The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case led to the civil war because the North was sick of their country not being fair. The Supreme Court thought that if they made the decision favoring the popular opinion, slavery would be decided once and for all and that people would just come to accept the fact that you were allowed to have slaves in America. Obviously, the North did not like this and that’s why they wanted to go to war. Not only did the judges make the decision off of popular demand but “The Justices in the majority believed they could use the Dred Scott case to settle contentious questions about slavery once and for all.”10
I think the North realised that this is what the Supreme Court was trying to do but they were not happy because they didn’t want the issue of slavery to just be put aside and forgot about. They really believed that these slaves were innocent and they were willing to put their lives on the line for the slaves and their country, the country that was supposed to give opportunity and not take it away.
The third reason why the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was great for America was that it changed the lives for slaves and African Americans as a whole. Before the Dred Scott case, the slaves were just going on with their everyday lives of being worked very hard and controlled without pay or their freedom that they longed. Even for the African Americans in the North who were free, they never really felt free as they were always going to be mistreated. They always thought to themselves that if I am black then I am not free because when you’re black, you are not an American Citizen and even “if Scott was deemed “free” under the laws of a state, he would still not qualify as an American Citizen because he was black.”11 Being black in the 1800’s meant that you were not free regardless of where you lived. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case helped black citizens feel more like they belonged in the country because they saw the support from people of the North who also fought against slavery and helped pick a President and even fight a war so that the African Americans and slaves get their rights back. Even though African Americans were still not treated very fairly after the war had ended, they were set free and they were still treated better and had more rights.
The Dred Scott case gave attention to African Americans and the way they were being treated. This allowed people to realise that they were not being treated properly and from there they were given more rights after a lot of years of hard work. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case changed slaves and African American lives for the better. Slaves were able to become free thanks to the Dred Scott case because without the acknowledgement of slavery being wrong and without Dred Scott working up the courage to fight what he believed in, they would have never gotten the rights they deserved to have and become American citizens.
The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was great for America because it led to Lincoln being elected, the Civil War, and changes for slaves and African Americans. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was a reason for a lot of things happening in our country at the time and without the case, are country would be different as it led to three of the greatest things are country has ever had and needed. Without people seeing this case and realizing that slavery had to end because it was cruel and wrong, Abraham Lincoln would have never been elected as President because slavery was his biggest reason that he was elected and his ability to work head on with the Dred Scott case proved he was so strong and passionate about ending slavery and without his leadership of abolishing slavery, slavery may still be going on to this day.
The Dred Scott case made way for the Civil War because without there being a controversial event, Americans would of put slavery to the side and continue to fight over the controversial topic for years to come. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case ability to challenge the idea of slavery and make people fight a Civil War, shows why it was such a great court case for America. Also, the Dred Scott case gave way to changes for slaves and African Americans because after the civil war they were finally being recognized as citizens and getting the rights they deserved. The Dred Scott vs. Sandford case was a very impactful event in our history and it gave way to many impactful things to come but without Dred Scott and his will to become free, it might not have led to the strong things that make our country the great, unified, country it is today.