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Dred Scott v. Sandford

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Dred Scott v. Sandford (60 U.S. 393) [1] was a landmark case in the history of the United States Supreme Court. The 1857 case concerned whether or not residency in a territory which did not recognize slavery in law granted freedom to the slave. In a 7-2 ruling, it was held that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, concerned with the protection of property, overruled local law, that residency did not change the status of a person's property, and that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

The court's decision was rendered by Chief Justice Roger Taney. With regard to the right of people of African descent to claim citizenship in the United States, it is now almost universally considered reprehensible, as it was by abolitionists of the day. In Justice Taney's words:

The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement [people of African descent] compose a portion of this people [citizens of the United States], and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

This ruling drew sharp criticism from abolitionists and charged the political atmosphere. Among the many others who held forth on their opinions of the final ruling, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debated the case and Frederick Douglass delivered a speech to the American Abolition Society in which he found hope, even in the face of "this devilish decision — this judicial incarnation of wolfishness." The political turmoil that the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision provoked is generally considered a leading cause of the United States civil war.