The Dred Scott Decision Essay Research Paper

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The Dred Scott Decision Essay, Research Paper The Dred Scott Decision There have been several cases in the history of the Supreme Court that have had a powerful impact on both the highest court of the land and the history of the United States. The Dred Scott decision can definitely be included in this category of monumental cases that changed the course of American history. Until this decision, the Supreme Court had a flawless reputation. Its prestige and credibility were beyond reproach. This high regard for the Supreme Court made people on both sides of the slavery issue turn to it in the hope that what could not be resolved in the political world could be solved in the legal world by the highest court of the land. But this was really expecting too much of judicial power.

The major error associated with this case was the misguided belief that a flaming political problem, slavery, could become manageable by calling it a legal problem and handing it over to the courts to resolve. In the Dred Scott case the decision was based on “expediency not principle.” The big problem was trying to use judicial power to settle a major political problem. Although the Dred Scott decision may have been the result of a trial , in reality it was a case of the court battling with the complex issue of slavery, especially in the territories, in the mid l800’s. In order to tell the story of a slave you have to tell the story of his master. The slave does not have an identity or history of his own. In Virginia, Peter Blow and his family had many slaves. Among these

slaves was a young man named Sam, or as we know him today, Dred Scott. Peter Blow decided to move his estate to Alabama and then to the thriving port city of St. Louis. During these years, Dred married and had a child. After the death of the Blows, Dred was sold to Dr. Emerson, an army surgeon. He and Scott traveled through Illinois and Minnesota. When Dr. Emerson died , Dred Scott was sent back to St. Louis to Mrs. Emerson. This was when Scott argued that under the terms of the Missouri Compromise, the fact that he and Dr. Emerson lived in Illinois and Minnesota made him a free man. The Missouri Compromise did not allow slavery in whatever territory that remained from the Louisiana Purchase north of a specific line, 360 30 of north latitude. At this time the issue of slavery was

a major concern. The Mexican War provided the United States with a lot of new territory, and the question of the future of slavery in the territories was on the mind of everyone. The people of the North who were against slavery wanted Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories. John C. Calhoun, the spokesman for the South, said that Congress did not have the right to prohibit slavery in the territories. The Southern attempt to extend the line of the Missouri Compromise failed, so their only hope was Calhoun’s constitutional criticism of Congress’ attempt to prohibit slavery in the territories. This was why they plunged themselves completely behind Calhoun’s ideas. Calhoun argued that the territories were “the common property of the states of this Union. They are

called the’ territories of the United States, and what are the United States, but the States united? Sir, these territories are the property of the States united; held jointly for their common use.” This statement beautifully illustrates how extreme the Southern view of state sovereignty was. It was the Southern belief that the states should have the right to declare slavery in their states and it is beyond congressional power to prohibit slavery. Southerners believed that their very existence depended on an equal amount of slave and free states. They realized that if Congress prohibited slavery in the territories there would be no more equality of slave states and free states. The Northern view was based upon the Wilmot Proviso which expressed the view that Congress had not