Dred Scott v. Sandford

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Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857).

Facts: Dred Scott (P), a slave owned by a Missourian, had resided with his owner in the northern Missouri territory and in Illinois, which was a free state, before returning to Missouri. When the owner died, P brought suit against the administrator, Sandford (D), claiming his residence in Illinois had liberated him. D contested diversity jurisdiction on the ground that P was not a citizen. The lower court held P’s statues as a slave reattached when he returned to Missouri. P appeals.

Issue: Does a slave or a decedent of a slave have status as a citizen to bring suit in federal court?

Holding: No.

Judgment: Affirmed.

Dissent (Curtis): Citizens of the several states are citizens of the US. Free native-born inhabitants of certain states were citizens, even if descended from African slaves. They are entitled to the privileges and immunities of the several states.


  • The Negro race had been considered an inferior race by the Europeans for a hundred years before the Constitution was adopted. They were bought and sold and treated as ordinary articles of commerce. The correctness of this opinion was not doubted. (Inferiority is in the natural law.)
  • The colonies accepted the English view that blacks were slaves. The words of the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" do not apply to the black race; nor do the terms "people" and "citizens" as used in the Constitution. Other provisions in the Constitution specifically uphold the institution of slavery.
  • The northern states began to disuse slaves because of climate and because slave labor was unsuited for the economy of those states. However, the law of each state in the union, except Maine, treated blacks as inferior politically.
  • The power of naturalization, which Congress exclusively possesses, is confined to persons born in a foreign country. It does not extend to raising to the rank of a citizen anyone born in the US who by law belongs to an inferior and subordinate class. This court must accept its duty of applying the Constitution without merely reflecting the popular opinions or passion of the day.
  • Held the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. Congress cannot legitimately legislate for a territory after its occupants could legislate for themselves. Denial of property (slaves) is a denial of Due Process (even if he moves states). Later resolved by the 14th Amendment.