Dred Scott v. Sandford

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What was the impact of the Dred Scott decision?

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The Dred Scott decision struck a blow to those who believed Congress could legislate the bounds of slavery. The Supreme Court's ruling effectively said slavery could move into new territories and even be tolerated in the free states of the North. Since Dred Scott was a slave who had spent significant time in a free state, the Supreme Court, by upholding his enslavement, effectively blurred the geographical lines between freedom and slavery. This essentially eradicated most of the provisions laid out in the Missouri Compromise.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court affirmed the lack of rights of slaves. The court's official ruling was based on their decision that Dred Scott himself had no right to bring the suit against his slave master. As a slave, he lacked the rights of a citizen, they argued. The justices in majority argued that Dred Scott should never have been able to sue for his freedom in the first place. This decision further cemented the lack of rights slaves had.

Beyond the immediate decision of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott decision further exacerbated the unrest in the country between abolitionists and supporters of slavery. Many northerners, including many in Congress, were outraged by the decision. Charles Sumner, a congressman from Massachusetts and ardent abolitionist, said long after the decision

I speak what cannot be denied when I declare that the opinion of the Chief Justice in the case of Dred Scott was more thoroughly abominable than anything of the kind in the history of courts. Judicial baseness reached its lowest point on that occasion.

Southern supporters of slavery counted the Dred Scott decision as a major victory. The court's ruling set the precedent that slavery was permissible in all parts of the United States, regardless of the Missouri Compromise.

The animosity brought about by the Dred Scott decision likely brought the United States one step closer to civil war. The reaction of both sides made it clear to their opponents that the issue of slavery could not be settled by the government, but only through the dedicated and determined effort of each opposing side.

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The notorious Dred Scott decision exacerbated existing tensions between slave states and free, making some kind of armed conflict virtually inevitable. The Supreme Court's ruling confirmed to many in the North that the existing constitutional arrangements were skewed in favor of the slave states. Even though Dred Scott had lived as a free man in a free state, he wasn't really free at all simply by virtue of the color of his skin. In effect, this meant that slavery was not confined to the slave states; it could travel from place to place, irrespective of the wishes of individual free states. Slave states were forever harping on about states' rights, yet the Dred Scott decision represented a direct attack on the right of free states not to have slavery on their territories.

The most serious consequence of Dred Scott was that it effectively closed off any realistic chance of a political...

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compromise over the issue of slavery. All of the previous efforts had either failed or been established in such a way as to favor the slave states and their interests. TheDred Scott decision may not have been the catalyst for Civil War, but it was certainly a major contributory factor.

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The Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford greatly enflamed sectional tensions between the North and the South. By declaring that Dred Scott was not entitled to his freedom, even though he had lived in Wisconsin territory for a time, the Court basically invalidated the Missouri Compromise, which declared territories north of the 36'30 line closed to slavery. This decision thus outraged many Northerners, who were convinced that a "slave power" conspired to spread the institution throughout the nation despite the opposition of the North. (A majority of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Roger Taney, was pro-slavery.) It even threatened the doctrine of "popular sovereignty" proposed by Northern Democrats like Stephen Douglas as a solution to the issue of the expansion of slavery. Southerners no longer saw this as a valid political position, and rejected Douglas when he attempted to make it part of the Democratic Party platform in the presidential election of 1860. Most importantly, it greatly added to the popularity of the Republican Party in northern states. The Republicans were devoted to stopping the spread of slavery, and when their candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860, largely because of the split in the Democratic Party mentioned above, the states of the Deep South, led by South Carolina, seceded from the Union. So the decision exacerbated tensions between North and South and made compromise over the issue of slavery far less likely.

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What was the significance of the Dred Scott decision?

The Dred Scott decision was one of the incidents that helped to lead to the Civil War.  It did this because it essentially made it impossible for the North and the South to make any further compromises on the issue of slavery in the territories.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled (among other things) that Congress had no right to make any laws regarding whether slavery would be legal in US territories (at that time, territories were areas that were not yet states because they lacked the population).  The status of slavery in the territories had been a major point of contention between North and South and had been somewhat solved by such things as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850.  With the Dred Scott decision, such laws became unconstitutional.  Congress could no longer forge compromises on the issue.  This mean that conflict was much more likely.

In that way, this decision helped cause the Civil War.

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what was the Dred Scott decision?

Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom, based on the principle of location-- he had traveled with his former owner into Illinois and Wisconsin, free states.  After a series of appeals, the case ended up going to the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court ruled that any person of African descent, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the United States.  Furthermore, because Dred Scott was not considered a citizen, he could not bring a a suit to federal court.  The Court decision basically said that slaves were property, and the government could not take away a slave without due process or  based on where the owner lived ; this decision effectively cancelled out the effectiveness of the Missouri Compromise.

This court decision was most significant because of the 'slaves are property, not citizens' ruling which greatly angered supporters of the Abolition Movement. 

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