The Dred Scott Case was important Supreme Court Case that impacted the future of slavery in the United States.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So, today I wanna talk about a famous Supreme Court decision called, it’s just known as Dread Scott. That’s what everybody calls it. But, so I wanna do a little brief intro on why the Supreme Court in these cases are so important. So the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. Once something gets to that court, it’s been decided, unless it’s like a rare instance where something goes back like decades later to be decided. But we’ll get to that. So when a lower courts, or when lower courts can’t agree on something, then the loser of the case, I guess you could call it, they petition or they ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. So to get to your case to the Supreme Court, you have to prove to them that the case involves like a major national issue, or it deals with an issue where, like different states have different rules. So it’s very unclear and it’s hard for people to figure out what to do. So the cool thing about Supreme Court cases, or I guess the important part about them is they really shape what the law becomes. So I’m trying to think of a recent one that came out. Well, for example, the Supreme Court just ruled on whether or not Osha, which is a government agency, if they can mandate all workers, employers with more than a hundred employees to get the vaccine. And the Supreme Court said, no, they can’t. So these are very important issues that affect every single one of us. So Supreme Court cases are very important. So we’re gonna talk about Dred Scott today and Dred Scott dealt with slavery, which was a huge issue when it happened in 1857. I’m gonna butcher this, I can’t remember the exact date that the Civil War started, but I believe it’s in the 1860s, right? Am I right? Okay. I was like, I think so. I can’t remember the exact date. So, this is one of the lead-up, right? There’s a lot of issues that led to it, and there’s a lot of different issues that the Civil War had to deal with, but this is right before that happened. So this is, that makes it, you know, even more important. So let’s get into the history of the case, starting with something called the Louisiana Purchase. And it was funny, while I was, doing the research for this episode, I had to go back and look at so many things that I learned when I was our listener’s age in school, that I was like, you know what? I remember that this was important. I remember the basics, but I don’t remember like all the details. So it’s fun because when I do these episodes, I get to learn or relearn things that I forgot so long ago. So, okay, so the Louisiana purchase, that was a huge purchase of land that we bought from France, and I believe this was when Napoleon, which maybe we’ll have to talk about him when we talk about villains, later on, but, so this was before the United States spread all across the continent. I think it’s easy for us to forget that there was a time when there was just scattered territories. So at this time, we did not own everything on this continent. So the Louisiana Purchase was a huge deal because this was when you had, we had to decide if new land if this new land we purchased under the Louisiana Purchase would be slave states. So the result, it was something called the Missouri Compromise. So the Missouri Compromise said that the state of Missouri would be admitted to the union, be admitted to the United States as a free, as a new state, as long as it was a slave state. And Maine, which is, on the East Coast, that would be admitted as a free state. So it was kind of like giving everybody a little bit of something, right? So Missouri was gonna be a slave state. Maine was going to be a free state, but it also said that the northern states that were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, they would all be free states as well. So that kind of helps stop the issue of slavery from becoming a boiling point. Cuz at this point it’s a very heated issue. And, you know, they didn’t want word to break out, which eventually it would. So now before the Louisiana Purchase, there was something called the Fugitive Slave Act. And the Fugitive Slave Act said that if a slave ran away to another state or territory, cuz not all the places that Americans lived were states yet, and they were caught. They had to be returned to their original state, even if slavery was illegal in the place that they ran to. So this caused a huge problem because let’s say someone ran away to slavery. We’ve talked about Harriet Tubman before, imagine Harriet Tubman, you know, bringing slaves to a free stay and then being caught and then sent back. That’s what that did is very terrible. Okay. So let’s get into the background of the actual Dread Scott Case and Dread Scott. So I’m gonna kick it to you, Emma.
Emma: So, Dread Scott was a man who was born into slavery. That’s something that was very common. There were a lot of people, a lot of families, slave families that for generations would be owned by other people, which is kind of crazy to wrap your mind around what that would be like, only ever knowing slavery. So he spent most of his life in Missouri with his slave owner, but later he was moved to Illinois, which was a free state. And then he was moved to Wisconsin, which was another free state. And when his owner died, the wife actually moved Dred Scott back to Missouri, which as we’ve talked about, was a slave state. And this was a huge problem for Scott because he had moved to two, or he had moved, been moved to two free states by his owner. And because of the Missouri Compromise, he should have actually been free when he entered those states. And he sued his owner, which took a lot of bravery because he’s suing someone that under the law is able to actually own him. He doesn’t really have any free agency or any free will or any rights actually. And he actually won his case. So, he probably thought, great, I’m free. This is awesome. And then unfortunately the case was appealed. And basically, an appeal is when someone loses a court case that they think that they should have won. So they reopened the case or they, I guess it wouldn’t be reopening it, but you’re appealing it and it starts a new case. And we actually have something called appeals court in the United States on different levels where people, that’s all they do is it’s just cases that have been lost and are being appealed. So there are different levels, and if you lose in one court, you can take your case to a higher court and have them basically decide if they agree with the other court’s decision. So a lot of times, just for some, a little bit of background, a lot of times if people lose their court case in a federal circuit court or something like that, it’ll be appealed when people are trying to get it up to the Supreme Court. So Brittany could probably talk a lot more about that cuz she’s done a ton of research on the legal system and knows it really well. But just a little quick aside there, so you can appeal, have your case taken to a higher court, they decide if they agree with the other court’s decision. And in this case, the next court decided that the lower court got it wrong. And, Dred Scott was actually taken back into slavery, but it wasn’t completely over there. A group of abolitionists actually helped him file a federal case. And the abolitionists were a group of people who basically started the anti-slavery movement and, and started getting people who were not slaves to care about slavery. Because for a long time it seemed like the only people who ever really understood or noticed how horrible slavery was were the slaves. Obviously, they understood how terrible it was to be owned by another person, but the abolitionists were this movement. Some of them were religious, some of them weren’t, but they were pushing really hard to make slavery illegal and have it abolished. And a lot of it came from England. There was a huge abolitionist movement there if you’ve ever heard the song. Amazing Grace that actually has to deal?
Brittany: Connor and I did a whole episode and I can’t remember his name now, but he’s great.
Emma: Yeah, John Newman, I wanna say. Is that right? No,
Brittany: But we’re getting closer.
Emma: Yes. Yeah, it’s something like that. But anyway, the case eventually made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, thanks to the abolitionists.
Brittany: Yeah. And here’s one cool fact. Connor and I have talked about Lysander Spooner before, and Lysander Spooner is actually a big abolitionist, so that’s just a little fun fact. Nice. So if you remember in the beginning I said that you know, the Supreme Court will only take a case if it deals with a question of big national importance. And in this case, again, slavery was a huge issue during this time. So the court had to ask or answer a couple of questions and remember that’s kind of what a court case is, right? You’re asking the court to hear your case, but you’re really saying is let’s say you were going to jail or going to court for, I’m trying to think of something that people go to court for today. What’s something, shout something out for me. Oh my gosh. I know I put us both on the spot.
Emma: Do you mean like federal court or just any court?
Brittany: Just anything, Yeah.
Brittany: Well, the ocean mandate, we can go to the ocean mandate. Yeah. So the question the court had to answer was, is this constitutional can an agency Yeah. Which is part of the executive branch, make laws about vaccines when only the legislative branch can, so they’re asking questions or answering questions. So in this case, the questions were, could an enslaved person who’s moved from a slave state to a free state be considered free? And even more importantly, is Scott even allowed to sue because is a slave a citizen? So there was really important questions, especially during this heated time. So the court’s decision was unfortunately not great. You know, a lot of times, like with the OSHA decision, we can look to the courts and say, oh my goodness, I’m so glad they got it right. This was a great moment in history. This was actually a very sad moment in history because the court ruled that Scott was still a slave. He was not freed and worse when justice, he was, Chief Justice Tanny. Now chief justice is one, you’re like, there’s nine supreme Quorn justices and you’re like the king of the justices. Not that’s a wrong way to put it. Cause I don’t wanna confuse this king. You’re like you’re head justice. So, Justice Tanny, he said, that slaves could actually never be citizens because there would always be slavery. They were slavery. And he also believed that bans on slavery were actually unconstitutional. So this is not a great time for freedom or for abolitionists. And this case was eventually overturned years later, but I mean, this had far-reaching comp, consequences. And one thing that we really need to keep in mind, we’re looking about this is how it led to this bigger issue of slavery and eventually, you know, broke out into a war. So one thing that is a terrible story, but it was interesting to learn about when I was in school is John Brown. And John Brown was an abolitionist. And after this case, not directly related, but it was, you know, this led to it. He, in the middle of the night with other abolitionists, went to a town and massacred, killed a bunch of slave owners, but he did it in a very brutal manner in front of their kids and their wives. And it was huge. But it was that moment of like, okay, the abolitionist movement is not just a small movement anymore. It’s not just a few, you know, people that are against slavery that are trying to end it. This is this, he wanted to make his point saying this is a problem. We want to end slavery. So the Dr. Scott Case was one of the final things that led to this big debate over slavery. But it’s also one of the sad things where we have to look at it and say, okay, the court got it wrong. Because I mean, one thing, everybody who loves Liberty and loves freedom knows is that slavery is wrong. That yeah. Every single one of us is born with these inalienable Rights and alienable rights, I can’t speak today, just like Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration that no, a person isn’t property. Right. A person is a person who has their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But that was not happening during this time. And it was, I mean, I can’t even imagine how terrible it would be to not only have been raised in slavery and have to live in slavery but to have to say to yourself that the government doesn’t even see you as a person. You know, the government doesn’t even think that you’re a person worthy of those rights. So that’s just crazy. And if you think about it, I guess it was a long time ago, I was gonna say it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but in my mind, 1980 was like yesterday and apparently it’s not. So it’s a really good story because it had such important, consequences on. Yeah. On our, American history. So I don’t know, Emma, if you have anything else to add.
Emma: Yeah. One interesting thing that I always think of when we’re talking about, you know, the laws regarding slavery and how they were eventually changed, and this is something that comes up a lot in the conversation now when people talk about, you know, the foundation of America. And there are a lot of people that unfortunately think that America is inherently racist or that the Constitution is inherently racist. And I think there were a lot of really terrible people that were in power that twisted the Constitution and that tried to use it as a tool to allow horrible things like slavery. But I think it’s really important that we remember that ultimately, you know, people like Frederick Douglass, who, was someone who loved the Constitution and who said, Hey, you know, he was a free black man. He was a former slave. Am I correct in that?
Brittany: Yes, and we did an episode on him, I believe. Yes. Think so too a while ago.
Emma: Yes. Yeah, definitely listen to that episode for more info on him. But yeah, he frequently talked about how wonderful the Constitution was and how wonderful these ideas, like Brittany said, of personal liberty and of God-given rights that can’t be taken away by any other person. Those ultimately, those ideals in the Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence, were what they used to abolish slavery. And I think it’s a really high standard that we haven’t always risen to as a country, especially when you look at things like slavery and our history. But it’s pretty awesome that is how they ended up ending it, is by holding our government accountable to those ideals that they set out originally. So I think that’s an important little piece of context to remember when we talk about these things. But yeah, it’s a crazy case and I think it’s always good to know our history on stuff like this. And it is a good reminder too that the government, even the Supreme Court sometimes can get stuff wrong. Yep. So we will wrap it up here today, guys. Thank you so much for listening. Like I said, check out the other episode on Frederick Douglass. Check out the one on Amazing Grace. Maybe figure out who wrote that song, because.
Brittany: That’s your homework.
Emma: Either of us can remember. That’s your homework. But thank you for listening, guys, and we will talk to you all again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.