Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P is for Property

Dred Scott v Sandford
[March 6, 1857, decision 7-2]

This decision is called the worst decision the US Supreme Court has ever made.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia in 1795.  He was sold to a man who took him to Illinois and then Wisconsin territory [modern Minnesota], both of which prohibited slavery.  He would have been able to seek his freedom, but he did not.  His owner moved back to the South and Scott followed him.  After the death of his owner, Scott sought to purchase his freedom but was denied by the owner's widow, who later transferred ownership of Scott to her brother, John Sandford [actually spelled Sanford but was misspelled by the Court and the misspelling remained].


For Dred Scott: When a person enters a free territory, the free status overrides the previous status of slavery.   Dred Scott became free when he entered free territory, and that status did not change when he moved back to non-free territory.

For Sandford: To deprive a person of property (in this case, Dred Scott) without due process or just compensation violated the 5th Amendment, which states that “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Dred Scott was still a slave and Sandford's property rights could not be taken away by state or federal law.

The court's ruling:
1. Dred Scott was a slave, so “property”, so not a citizen.  Therefore he did not have standing to bring a case in federal court.
2. The Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional because it made slaves free if they moved to free states, and that would deprive the slave owner of his property without due process of law.

Approximately three months after this ruling, ownership of Dred Scott was transferred again and his new owner set him and his family free.

The Dred Scott decision was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

Did you guess right?
Here's Thursday's hint - Q is for Quarles.  Can you guess the case and what it's about?  Leave a comment!


  1. So two justices came down on the right side of history back in the day. I'm gonna have to look 'em up, see who the smartest guys in the land were back then.

    I think I'm gonna know Quarles. So, wow, I might be something like 3-for-17. That won't get me a big-league contract.

    1. I'm only the minor league here, so you're acceptable =)

  2. Enjoying your posts, Dena, but John is beating my 0-for-17 (but I think I have a good excuse *wink*).

  3. I certainly hope we have matured as a human race since then.

    Her Grace, Heidi from Romance Spinners

    1. I hope so too, and most of the time it seems we have. But then sometimes it doesn't............

  4. I'm not sure I was ever clear on the details of that. Very interesting.

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