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41. Papers in the Dred Scott Case (1847-1848)


These papers are introduced to show the process of claiming freedom, the succession of suits, and the original question at issue in the Missouri courts. The action for trespass here described was finally decided in Dred Scott's favor, but on appeal to the Supreme Court of Missouri the decision was reversed. Meanwhile Scott had brought tion of trespass in the United States Circuit Court, as a citizen of Missouri suing Sandford, a citizen of New York. The court gave judgment for the defendant, and Dred Scott's counsel carried the case to the United States Supreme Court on a writ of error. After the decision, which is one of the most important opinions ever handed down by the court, Scott was at once set free by his titular master. — Bibliography: Channing and Hart, Guide, § 202.


Dred Scott


Alex. Sandford,

Saml. Russel, and

Irene Emerson.


the Honorable, the Circuit Court within and for the County of St. Louis.

Your petitioner, Dred Scott, a man of color, respectfully represents that sometime in the year 1835 your petitioner was purchased as a slave by one John Emerson, since deceased, who afterwards, to-wit; about the year 1836 or 1837, conveyed your petitioner from the State of Missouri to Fort Snelling, a fort then occupied by the troops of the United States and under the jurisdiction of the United States, situated in the territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana, lying north of 36 degrees and 30' North latitude, now included in the State of Missouri, and resided and continued to reside at Fort Snelling upwards of one year, and held your petitioner in slavery at such Fort during all that time in violation of the Act of Congress of 1806 and 1820, entitled An Act to Authorize the People of Missouri Territory to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of such State

into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to Prohibit Slavery in Certain Territories.

Your petitioner avers that said Emerson has since departed this life, leaving his widow Irene Emerson and an infant child whose name is unknown to your petitioner; and that one Alexander Sandford administered upon the estate of said Emerson and that your petitioner is now unlawfully held in slavery by said Sandford and by said administrator, and said Irene Emerson claims your petitioner as part of the estate of said Emerson and by one Samuel Russell.

Your petitioner therefore prays your Honorable Court to grant him leave to sue as a poor person, in order to establish his right to freedom, and that the necessary orders may be made in the premises.

State of Missouri

County of St. Louis ss.

This day personally came before me, the undersigned, a Justice of the Peace, Dred Scott, the person whose name is affixed to the foregoing petition, and made oath that the facts set forth in the above petition are true to the best of his knowledge and belief, that he is entitled to his freedom.

Witness my hand this 1st day of July, 1847.

Dred Scott.


Dred X Scott

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 1st day of July, 1847.

Peter W. Johnstone

A. Hamilton

Justice of the Peace.

Upon reading the above petition this day, it being the opinion of the Judge of the Circuit Court, that the said petition contains sufficient matter to authorize the commencement of a suit for his freedom, it is hereby ordered that the said petitioner Dred Scott be allowed to sue on giving security satisfactory to the Clerk of the Circuit Court for all costs that may be adjudged against him, and that he have reasonable liberty to attend to his counsel and the court as the occasion may require, and that he be not subject to any severity on account of this application for his freedom.

July 2d, 1847.

Judge of Circuit Court 8th Jud. Cir.

State of Missouri

County of St. Louis ss.


Circuit Court of St. Louis County, November Term, 1847.


Dred Scott, a man of color, by his attorneys, plaintiff in this suit, complains of Alexander Sandford, administrator of the estate of John Emerson, deceased, Irene Emerson and Samuel Russell defendants, of a plea of trespass that the said defendants, heretofore, to-wit, on the 1st day of July in the year 1846, at to-wit, the County of St. Louis aforesaid with force and arms assaulted said plaintiff, and then and there bruised and ill-treated him, and then and there put him in prison and kept and detained him in prison, and without any reason whatsoever for the space of one year, and then and there violating and contrary to law and against the will of said plaintiff; and said plaintiff avers that before and at the time of the committing of the grievance aforesaid, he, the said plaintiff, was then and there and still is a free person, and that the said defendants held and still hold him in slavery, and other wrongs to said plaintiff then and there did against the laws of the State of Missouri to the damage of the said plaintiff in the sum of $300, and therefore he sues.


April 30, 1847, April Term. A. Hamilton, Judge.

Dred Scott of color



This day come the parties by their attorney and comes also a jury . . . twelve good and lawful men, who being

Irene Emmerson.

duly elected, tried and sworn the truth to speak upon the issue joined between the parties, upon their oaths, do find that the said defendant is not guilty in any manner and form as the plaintiff hath in his declaration complaint against her. Therefore it is considered that the said defendant go hence without day and recover of the said plaintiff her costs in this behalf expended. The plaintiff by his attorneys files a motion for a new trial herein. Set aside. . . .

Dred Scott

Irene Emmerson.


Dred Scott

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It is ordered in this case that the plaintiff in these two suits make his election on or before the first day of the next term of this Court which of said suits he will continue to prosecute.

Thursday December 2, 1847, November Term.

On consideration of the motion of the plaintiff for a new trial herein, it is ordered that the same be susIrene Emmerson.) tained, and that the verdict and judgment herein rendered be set aside and a new trial had.

Dred Scott


Dred Scott



Dred Scott



Thursday Feby 29, 1848, Nov. Term.

This day comes said plaintiff by his attorneys and says that he will not furFreedom. ther prosecute this suit. It is therefore considered that said defendants go hence without day and recover of said

Alex. Sandford,

Samuel Russell,
Irene Emmerson.
plaintiff their costs in this behalf, and have thereof execution.


Friday March 17th, 1848.

Motion of Attorney for Defendant.

Irene Emmerson.

It is ordered that the Sheriff of St. Louis County take the said plaintiff into his possession and hire him out from time to time to the best advantage, during the pendency of this suit. And that he take bond from the hirer payable to the State of Missouri in the sum of $600 with good security conditioned that the said hirer shall not remove said plaintiff out of the jurisdiction of this Court; that he will pay the hire to said Sheriff and return said plaintiff at the expiration of the term for which he is hired, or as soon as this action is ended.

From the MS. Court Records of St. Louis County.

42. Dred Scott Decision (1857)


Taney succeeded Marshall as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1835. Though earlier a decided partisan, he filled satisfactorily the difficult position of chief justice. Although inclined to a strict construction of the Constitution, he did little to weaken the theories of government set forth by Marshall. He was probably drawn into the delivery of the Dred Scott decision, a great obiter dictum, by the sincere hope that the great prestige of a Supreme Court decision would settle forever the slavery question. This is the first case of an act of Congress, not relating to the judiciary itself, which was held void by the Supreme Court. For Taney, see Samuel Tyler, Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney. — Bibliography as in No. 41 above.

HE question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were

of the political community formed and brought into existence by the constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the constitution.

It will be observed, that the plea applies to that class of persons only whose ancestors were negroes of the African race, and imported into this country, and sold and held as slaves. The only matter in issue before the court, therefore, is, whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be emancipated, or who are born of parents who had become free before their birth, are citizens of a State, in the sense in | which the word citizen is used in the constitution of the United States. And this being the only matter in dispute on the pleadings, the court must be understood as speaking in this opinion of that class only, that is, of those persons who are the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country, and sold as slaves. . . .

The words "people of the United States" and "citizens" . . . mean the same thing. . . . The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? . . .

In discussing this question, we must not confound the rights of citizenship which a State may confer within its own limits, and the rights of citizenship as a member of the Union. It does not by any means follow, because he has all the rights and privileges of a citizen of a State, that he must be a citizen of the United States. . . .

It is very clear . . . that no State can, by any act or law of its own,

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