Dred Scott, 1857


THREE YEARS after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, another situation alinated Americans on the issue of slavery.  This was the Dred Scott Supreme Court Case.


Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom before the Supreme Court in 1857.  Scott's arguement was that he had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin with his owner Dr. John Emerson and was therefore a free citizen, even though he was now living in the slave state of Missouri.


The Supreme Court denied his claim on the grounds that because he was of  "African ancestry" he and all blacks could never become citizens of the United States, and therefore could not sue in a federal court.  The fundamental sentiment of this decision was that blacks should only be considered as property, just like hogs and cattle.


According to the court, "[Negroes] are so inferior that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect."  The court further stated that since slaves were property and property was protected by the Fifth Amendment, Congress could not deny citizens of their slaves anywhere within the United States.  With one blow the Supreme Court annulled forty years of legislation concerning the restriction of slavery. Southern Democrats were delighted by the court's  support of popular sovreignity; however, many Northern Democrats were disgusted by the court's decision and left their party for the newly formed, and strengthening, Republican Party.


THE CO-AUTHOR of the Dred Scott decision was Supreme Court Judge James Wayne from Savannah.  Wayne was born in 1790, had served as Mayor of Savannah, a United States Congressman, and a Supreme Court Judge.  He was also a staunch supporter of slavery and at one point owned 30 slaves on his rice plantation, "Red Knoll."


Despite his support of slavery, Wayne was strongly opposed to the slave trade.  This was the probable reason he was appointed judge of the Wanderer case by President James Buchanan.  President Buchanan was a southern sympathizer, but like Wayne he was opposed to the slave trade.  Buchanan was also under extreme pressure from the barrage of The New York Times articles demanding justice in the Wanderer case and problems with the struggling Democratic Party.  In an effort of appeasement, Buchanan appointed his Attorney General, Jeremiah Sulivan Black, to direct the Wanderer case, and Wayne was charged as judge.


As the appointed judge in the Wanderer trial Wayne was given orders by Buchanan to convict if possible.  Following his passion and the rule of law, Judge Wayne informed the Wanderer jurors of the history of the slave trade stating: "From remote antiquity the seizure and abduction of men and women, with the intent to dispose of them as slaves, by the crew. . . Have been deemed and always called acts of piracy." - The Wanderer, The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set its Sails, by Eric Calonius.


(Image: "Dred Scott," ca. 1857, *image reference NW0002)