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Scott v. Sandford - Scott Sues For Freedom

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Tired of a lifetime of slavery, Scott tried to buy his freedom from the widow Emerson, without success. Scott had acquired more education than most slaves and realized that his travels into a free territory might give him a claim to freedom. Represented by former Missouri Attorney General Samuel M. Bay, on 6 April 1846, Scott sued for his freedom in the Missouri Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis. Sanford and the widow Emerson were represented by George W. Goode. Because Sanford was the estate executor for Scott's former master, the official reports bear his name as the primary defendant, misspelled to read "Scott v. Sandford."

Legally, Scott's suit was for assault and false imprisonment. A slave could be punished and kept as property, but a free person could not, so the legal charges were in fact window dressing for the issue of Scott's freedom. On 30 June 1847, the case came to trial before Judge Alexander Hamilton. Bay committed a technical error in presenting the plaintiff's evidence, and the jury returned a verdict that same day in Emerson and Sanford's favor. Hamilton granted Bay's motion for a new trial, which was held on 12 January 1850, again before Judge Hamilton. This time, Scott's lawyers were Alexander P. Field and David N. Hall. Sanford had by this time completely taken over the widow Emerson's affairs and retained Hugh A. Garland and Lyman D. Norris for the defense.

At the second trial, the jury held that Scott was a free man, based on certain Missouri state court precedents that held that even though Missouri was a slave state, residence in a free state or territory resulted in a slave's emancipation. Scott's freedom was short-lived, however.

Sanford appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. After more than two years, Judge William Scott announced that court's decision on 22 March 1852. Scott reversed the jury verdict of the second trial, stating that Dred Scott was still a slave. Although Judge Scott's decision was couched in legal terms concerning states' rights and the legality of slavery within Missouri's borders, in fact the real basis for the decision was the rise to power of pro-slavery Democrats on the court. Judge Scott justified the court's decision to reverse those legal precedents that supported Dred Scott's freedom by stating that blacks were destined to be slaves:

We are almost persuaded that the introduction of slavery amongst [Americans] was, in the providence of God, who makes the evil passions of men subservient to His own glory, a means of placing that unhappy race within the pale of civilized nations.

Scott v. Sandford - Scott Tries Federal Courts [next] [back] Scott v. Sandford - Further Readings

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