Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Scott, Dred

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SCOTT, Dred, slave, b. in Missouri about 1810; d. after 1857. He was a negro slave, and about 1834 was taken by his master, Dr. Emerson, an army surgeon, from Missouri to Rock Island, Ill., and then to Fort Snelling, in what was then Wisconsin territory. Here he married, and two children were born to him. On his return to Missouri he sued in a local court in St. Louis to recover his freedom and that of his family, since he had been taken by his master to live in a free state. Scott won his case, but his master now appealed to the state supreme court, which, in 1852, reversed the decision of the lower tribunal. Shortly afterward the family were sold to a citizen of New York, John F. A. Sandford, and, as this afforded a ground for bringing a similar action in a Federal court, Scott sued again for freedom, this time in the U. S. circuit court in St. Louis in May, 1854. The case was lost, but an appeal was made to the U. S. supreme court, and, the importance of the matter bring realized by a few eminent lawyers, several offered to take part in the argument. Those on Scott's side were Montgomery Blair and George T. Curtis, while opposed to him were Reverdy Johnson and Henry S. Geyer. None of these asked for compensation. The case was tried in 1856, and the judgment of the lower court was affirmed. A brief opinion was prepared by Justice Nelson, but before its public announcement it was decided by the court that, in view of the importance of the case and its bearing on the whole slavery question, which was then violently agitating the country, Chief-Justice Taney should write a more elaborate one. Taney's opinion was read, 6 March, 1857, two days after the inauguration of President Buchanan, and excited intense interest throughout the country on account of its extreme position in favor of slavery. It affirmed, among other things, that the act of congress that prohibited slavery north of latitude 36° 30' was unconstitutional and void. Thomas H. Benton said of this decision that it made a new departure in the working of the government, declaring slavery to be the organic law of the land, while freedom was the exception. The passage that was most widely quoted and most unfavorably commented upon, was that in which Taney described the condition of the negroes at the adoption of the constitution, saying: “They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” Afterward Scott and his family passed by inheritance to the family of Calvin C. Chaffee, a member of congress from Massachusetts, and on 26 May, 1857, they were emancipated in St. Louis by Taylor Blow, to whom Mr. Chaffee had conveyed them for that purpose. See Benjamin C. Howard's “Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court, and the Opinions of the Judges thereof, in the Case of Dred Scott” (Washington, 1857); Thomas H. Benton's “Historical and Legal Examination of the Decision in the Dred Scott Case” (New York, 1860); Joel Parker's “Personal Liberty Laws and Slavery in the Territories: Case of Dred Scott” (Boston, 1861); and “Abraham Lincoln, a History,” by John Hay and John G. Nicolay. A portrait of Dred Scott, probably the only one in existence, painted from an old photograph, is in the possession of the Missouri historical society.