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DRED SCOTT v. SANFORD (1857)

Roger Brook Taney followed John Marshall as chief justice. Appointed by President Andrew Jackson, he would serve over twenty-eight years and die during the Civil War, a conflict for which he must accept a share of the responsibility. In 1857, Taney, eighty years old and sick and broken by the death of his wife and daughter within hours of each other, rendered the Dred Scott decision, which served to feed a firestorm of controversy that ultimately resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War. The consensus on the Dred Scott opinion for the entire period since 1857 has been negative, on grounds of both constitutional reasoning and policy judgment. Taney s reputation has been darkened beyond recovery by this great judicial cloud.

United States citizenship was not defined with any precision until the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution after the Civil War in 1868. For white Americans, state citizenship was enough for most purposes, and in a general sense citizens of a state were citizens of the United States when, for instance, traveling abroad.

Slaves could not be citizens anywhere in the U.S., and state and federal courts had affirmed that fact often in the years preceding the Dred Scott decision. By the 1830s, the question of the extension of slavery into the western territories was central to American politics, and the nation looked to the courts for an authoritative decision as to whether free blacks could be citizens and what the implications were for the further spread of slavery.

Dred Scott was owned by a Missouri military physician who was assigned to posts in Illinois and Minnesota, where slavery was illegal. When Scott returned to Missouri, he sued for his freedom on the grounds that a sojourn in a free state or territory had the effect of emancipating him.

At the moment the case came before the Supreme Court, emotions across the nation could hardly have been more intense. North and South stood at loggerheads over the slavery issue. Taney now felt he could safely and forever resolve tensions by a sweeping opinion in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. But the exploding bombs at Fort Sumpter four years later would signal how badly out of touch the old justice was with reality.

Taney declared that Negroes in America "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." African-Americans were not citizens, and neither Congress nor any state could make them citizens. Slaves were property, and Congress by mere legislation could not divest slaveholders of it, not in the territories, not in the states. Congress could not authorize territorial legislatures to outlaw slavery.

The outcome of Dred Scott v. Sanford did not cause the Civil War, but it was a central episode in the events that brought on the bloodiest of all American conflicts. And it shaped the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment, which explicitly overrode the Dred Scott decision: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, arc citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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