Dred Scott v. Sanford


Dred Scott, whose ancestors were imported into the U.S. as slaves, but eventually claimed that he was a free person because of his travels in Illinois, and the free parts of Missouri – P brought a diversity action against D, claiming that he was free due to his travels in the abovementioned states…P insisted that he was properly considered a citizen of Missouri and that he could bring a diversity action against D.


Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the constitution of the US, and as such, become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen?

***further, can a descendent of such slaves, when they shall have become emancipated, or have been born from free parents, are citizens of a state, in the sense of the word as used in the constitution?****




“We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizen’ in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides, and secures to citizens of the US.

Court reasoning

History – at the time of the construction of the constitution was formed, they were considered subordinate and inferior classes of people – that was the intentions of the framers, to keep them as such.

–          If individual states want to recognize a former slave as a citizen, this does not mean, the US as a nation, has to recognize this type of citizen as a citizen of the US – it does not mean, if a state grants citizenship, that the US grants citizenship to be protected by the constitution of the US.

–          Article 4, section 2 – the citizens of each state shall be entitled to the all privileges and immunities of citizens in several states – this was intended to people traveling thru states…temporarily in another state, w/out taking residence up there. – gives them no political rights to vote in another state

Courts positioning – the duty of the court, is to interpret the instrument that the law-makers have framed.

Article 1, section 8, clause 4 – Constitution has conferred upon congress, and exclusive plenary power to “establish an uniform rule of naturalization.”

–          Naturalization – the granting of citizenship to a foreign born person under statutory authority – it is not a power, to rise to the rank of a citizen from birth or parentage, to rise to a rank of citizen, an inferior class of people.

–          States cannot, since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the community created by the constitution – also, cannot bring someone into the US community, that was not intended to be embraced in the new political family.

  • Naturalization laws – 2nd session of congress – “confines the rights of becoming citizens to “free white persons”
  • Congress had no power to naturalize African race, either imported or born into this country because they were a) not foreigners in the constitutional sense, and b) the rights to becoming free citizens were confined to the white people.
  • Simply put, free persons of color, were not United States citizens.

Strict interpretation – when constitution was formed, it was intended for the class of people, who were citizens when it was formed, not for anyone else, and not for an ‘inferior’ race of people.

More history – Declaration of Independence, European nations, state laws – all showed, that this class of people, were not to be considered as citizens, in the constitutional sense of the word.

–          State laws that show, a black person and a white person cannot get married. Cannot be stated, that, when the constitution for created, that states intended slaves to have the same rights of people in there union – which everyone of them denied at the adoption of the constitution

  • Question: what about now? Some states want to recognize them as citizens.

–  Declaration of Independence – the word ‘people’ was not intended to include the slave population.

Text – Constitution showing that these classes of people were considered a separate class of people – these two clauses were not intended to bless them with prosperity and blessings of liberty and any other persona rights.

Article 1, section 9, clause 1 – Importation that it sanctions, was unquestionably the class of people that we are talking about (traffic of slaves to the United States).

Article 4, section 2, clause 2, 3 – The bringing of slaves back to there masters (prig v. Pennsylvania).


Dissenting – Justice Curtis – Under the laws of the constitution, every free person born on the soil of a state, who is a citizen of that state by force of its constitution or laws, is also a citizen of the United States.

Taney’s response to the Missouri compromise – Missouri compromise was unconstitutional – Territory clause – Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 “Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging the United States.”

–          Taney stated that this was about land existing w/in the united states, and not about expansion in which the Louisiana purchase was under

–          Constitution could not create territories, and make them become free, or slave states. This power is granted to the states themselves.

–          5th amendment – no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property w/out due process of law – federal government cannot tell new states, how they are going to be affected by slavery, or non-slavery, for that matter.

  • Plain meaning, article 4, states that people are entitled to do what they want with property, and in this case, slaves as property.
  • Due process of law – Missouri compromise violates the property rights of citizens under the due process clause of the 5th amendment – “Government could not extinguish existing vested rights of property” – principle was that when legislature took property from A, and gave it to B they violated the ‘law of the land.’
    • When slave owners brought there property (slaves) into free-states, it was taking their property in the slave, and giving it to the slave – which destroyed the vested rights of the due process clause.
    • Basically, you cannot bring a slave to a free state, and make that slave free – power of congress did not allow this under the due process clause. Reviled.

–          Justice Carton Concurring – Congress, cannot do, what the constitution directly prohibits – cannot make a state, a slave, or non-slave state. This power is granted to the states by the 10th amendment, to police there borders if slavery is prohibited in there respective states.

Justice McLean Dissenting – A citizen is a free man, and Scott, being a freeman is a citizen within the act of congress.

Frederick Douglass

–          Denies that the constitution guarantees the right to hold property in man

–          It would be absurd to interpret the constitution by how the framers intended it to work (i.e. the writers).

  • Framers sat in closed doors – and they alleged interpretation that they wanted to maintain slavery was not talked about to years after the constitution’s creation.
  • Look to the text of the constitution itself, and not the framers intentions.
    • Constitution, on its face, does not support a pro-slavery interpretation – even in Article 1, Sections 2,8, and 9 and Article 4, Section 2.
  • Article 1, Section 2 – doesn’t forbid a slave from voting, but rather, it promotes slaves to vote, albeit, only 2/5ths of white voters.
  • Slavery was an archaic thing, that was intended to be abolished by the terms of 1808….etc…
  • Fugitive slave provision, Article 4, Section 2, was about persons bound to service and labor – not slaves who were viewed as property – the legal provision puts a slave beyond this proposition.
  • “In all matters where the laws are taught to be made the means of oppression, cruelty, and wickedness, I am for strict constructionism.”
    • Very nature of the law is opposed to wickedness.
  • Plain language, ‘we the people’ was not intended for just white people, but for all people, not we the ‘citizens, privileged class, we the high.”

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