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The Dred Scott Case

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law

David Thomas Konig

Publication Year: 2010

In 1846 two slaves, Dred and Harriet Scott, filed petitions for their freedom in the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. As the first true civil rights case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Dred Scott v. Sandford raised issues that have not been fully resolved despite three amendments to the Constitution and more than a century and a half of litigation. The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law presents original research and the reflections of the nation’s leading scholars who gathered in St. Louis to mark the 150th anniversary of what was arguably the most infamous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision that held that African Americans “had no rights” under the Constitution and that Congress had no authority to alter that galvanized Americans and thrust the issue of race and law to the center of American politics. This collection of essays revisits the history of the case and its aftermath in American life and law. In a final section, the present-day justices of the Missouri Supreme Court offer their reflections on the process of judging and provide perspective on the misdeeds of their nineteenth-century predecessors who denied the Scotts their freedom.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Bringing together the symposium that produced these essays was a collaborative effort. We are especially grateful for the financial support provided by Dean Kent Syverud of the Washington University Law School and Dean Edward Macias of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and by generous alumni....

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pp. 1-6

No symbol of St. Louis looms more dominant than its famous Gateway Arch, which since its opening in 1967 has afforded more than forty million visitors an expansive view of the middle of the North American continent. It was at the confluence of two great river systems—the Missouri...

part one

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one Constitutional Law and the Legitimation of History

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pp. 9-24

Roger Taney was not the first judge to seek legitimacy for an opinion by drawing on the authority of the past, and his “opinion of the court” in Dred Scott v. Sandford only continued a long tradition of applying— some would say, manipulating—the historical method to reach desired...

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two Dred Scott versus the Dred Scott Case

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pp. 25-46

News of the decision reached St. Louis before the end of the day. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney gathered the U.S. Supreme Court to deliver the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford. The result was telegraphed throughout the country all afternoon: “The act of Congress...

part two

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three John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Dred Scott, and the Problem of Constitutional Evil

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pp. 49-67

Kenneth Stampp concluded the preface to his And the War Came by asking readers, “How many more generations of black men should have been forced to endure life in bondage in order to avoid its costly and violent end?”1 Almost forty years later, Evan Carton concluded his Patriotic...

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four The Legacy of the Dred Scott Case

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pp. 68-82

In Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s Dred Scott decision, a defense of slavery became the essential condition of constitutional government and national unity in the United States. Republicans uniformly denounced the decision and held to their founding principle that the municipal limits of...

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five An Exaggerated Legacy

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pp. 83-99

Scholars frequently cite Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) as the birthplace of substantive due process, one of the most controversial concepts in American constitutional law.1 This concept holds that the Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth...

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six Emancipation and Contract Law

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pp. 100-116

In 1859, in United States v. Amy, Chief Justice Roger Taney was asked to rule on a claim by a Virginia slave owner that it was a violation of the Fifth Amendment to send his slave to prison.1 Amy had allegedly stolen a letter from the post office and was prosecuted under an 1825 federal law that...

part three

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seven Dred Scott, Human Dignity, and the Quest for a Culture of Equality

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pp. 119-139

Much has been said and written about the Dred Scott decision over the past 150 years. We are all familiar with the basic holding of the case— the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that black persons descended from slaves, whether free or not, could never become citizens of the United...

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eight Dred Scott, Racial Stereotypes, and the “enduring marks of inferiority”

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pp. 140-155

A couple of years ago, I was in the lobby of the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, one of the most lavish hotels from America’s Gilded Age. It has rich woodwork, mosaic and terrazzo floors, handcrafted chandeliers, and gilded hallways. It is the annual meeting place for many...

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nine Unmasking the Lie

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pp. 156-170

Although it is possible for a nation to deny its history, it is not possible for it to escape responsibility for the consequences of that history. A significant part of America’s history consists of the sordid practice of black chattel slavery. Integral to that peculiar institution was the Supreme...

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ten Whose Ancestors Were Imported into This Country and Sold as Slaves?

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pp. 171-176

My observations are inspired by the legal tenor of the vast majority of contributions to this volume. As an African American linguist I find Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s opinion in the Dred Scott case to be extraordinary and ironic. It is extraordinary because of his ability to restrict his ruling to a single race, namely, “Negroes.” His opinion, ironically...

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eleven Considering Reparations for Dred Scott

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pp. 177-190

Among the many tragedies of our country’s history of slavery is that it left a deep, virtually inexhaustible well of injury. There is no way to provide compensation for each injury of the past or for the unspeakable crimes of brutalization that took place under slavery.1 And those crimes...

part four

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twelve Lessons for Judges from Scott v. Emerson

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pp. 193-211

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision1 has been examined extensively, from 1857 until today.2 The predecessor decision of the Missouri Supreme Court in Scott v. Emerson3 has not been analyzed as comprehensively, although Chief Justice Roger B. Taney concluded the Court’s opinion by...

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thirteen Missouri Law, Politics, and the Dred Scott Case

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pp. 212-226

To get the Missouri politics of the Dred Scott era, let us fast forward a few years to the Civil War. Between 1861 and 1865, many states experienced what many people to the south of St. Louis call the “war between the states” or, more pointedly, “the war of northern aggression.” As a border...

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fourteen The Strange Career of Dred Scott

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pp. 227-252

This book emerged from a conference commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, held, appropriately in St. Louis at Washington University. Dred Scott’s case began in St. Louis, of course, and after ultimately losing his appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court...

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pp. 253-272

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pp. 273-274

Austin Allen is Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston-Adam Arenson is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas John Baugh is Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts and Sciences at Duane Benton is Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Judge, Supreme Court of Missouri, 1991–2004; Chief Justice, 1997–1999....


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pp. 275-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443286
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419120

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slavery -- United States -- Legal status of slaves in free states -- History.
  • Scott, Dred, 1809-1858 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Slavery -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History.
  • United States -- History -- 1849-1877.
  • Constitutional history -- United States.
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