The Day Slavery was Justified in America: The Dred Scott Decision

William Saint Val

This Day in History
Dred Scott, 1857Photo byPublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some Supreme Court decisions can be understood within the context of the era. Still, regardless of the times, as human beings, it’s hard to come to terms with the reasons behind some of their decisions. March 6, 1857, was a day that left a stain on American history when the Supreme Court justified slavery.

This Dred Scott decision legalized slavery in the U.S., cementing the division between the North and South and setting the stage for the Civil War. The Dred Scott decision was a devastating blow to the anti-slavery movement in the United States. It was a decision that not only upheld the legality of slavery but also declared that black people were property.

In his opinion, Taney declared that Scott had no right to sue in federal court because he was not a citizen of the United States. Taney went further, stating that African Americans, whether free or slave, had no rights that “white men were bound to respect.” This stunning claim basically nullified the idea of freedom for all in the United States, paving the way for the further expansion of slavery in the territories.

The Supreme Court’s opinion effectively invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery in certain territories. It enraged abolitionists and anti-slavery activists but emboldened Southern politicians, who believed that slavery was an essential part of their economy and way of life.

The Scott decision was a fundamentally flawed interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Chief Justice Taney argued that the Founding Fathers did not intend for black people to be citizens and that the Constitution only protected the rights of white people—a blatant violation of the principles of freedom and equality that the Constitution is supposed to represent.

The Dred Scott case began in 1846 when a slave named Dred Scott sued for his freedom in a Missouri court. Scott had been taken by his owner to live in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin.

Upon returning to Missouri, Scott claimed that he should be free because he had lived on free soil for a significant period of time. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Taney delivered the decision.

The Dred Scott decision left a lasting impression on the United States, despite being ultimately overturned by the 14th Amendment. The decision reinforced the idea that black people were inferior to white people. It helped to perpetuate a culture of racism and discrimination that would last for generations, a legacy that continues to be felt in the United States today.

The Dred Scott decision was a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution that upheld slavery and denied the basic rights of citizenship to black people. March 6, 1857, will forever be remembered as the day when the opinion of one man justified the bondage of millions of human beings.

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