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Dred Scott: Slave or Free?
Scott vs Sanford, territory, Missouri Compromise, Northwest Ordinance
Slavery and the Ideals of The Declaration of Independence Unit
This article is brought to you by the years 1846-1857!I want to tell you why I set my slaves free. It's due to a man named Dred Scott. Yes, this man was black. Yes, he was a slave. And yes, he made me rethink everything about my life. Using his intelligence and reason, Scott fought all the way to the Supreme Court to sue for his freedom. I admire him. I know this is a strange thing to hear from a man living in the South. I'm ashamed to say I ever had slaves, and that I ever thought of them as property. Of course, most people in the South do still think of black folk as property. It's 1858, for crying out loud. Why does everyone still think so backwards? This is a hard story, and one that makes a lot of people in this day and age angry, so I am going to try to make it as simple as possible. Scott's trouble began because of the different laws held in both states and territories. Every state and territory has their own rules about slaves. A territory is a piece of land that might have people living on it, but has not legally become a state. Even though it's not a state, there can still be laws that the people who live and visit there have to follow. This means that if a slave is taken to a territory that does not allow slavery or a free state, he is free. Plain and simple. Of course anything that has to do with the white man and his property can never be that simple. Like I said, Dred Scott was a slave. He was owned by a man named Emerson. Emerson brought Scott west to Illinois, which is a free state. Always has been. The Northwest Ordinance was a law passed in 1787 that planned out the settlement of the territory in the Northwest as non-slave states. This meant Illinois. Scott's master stayed there for four years, which like I said before, gave Scott the right to his freedom. Problem was, Dred either liked his master a whole lot or he did not know his rights. My guess is it's probably that last one. So Scott did not try to become free, and Emerson brought him and his family back to the slave states.
What happened next would change the laws of the whole country. Back in 1820, there were twenty-two states: eleven that allowed slaves and eleven that did not. Missouri wanted to enter the states as a slave state, tipping the balance from fifty fifty to whatever 11 free and 12 slave would be. I never was very good at math. Anyway, this would make the U.S. government look real bad. If they let in a new slave state it would show that they were in favor of slavery. In the Missouri Compromise of 1820 congress made Missouri a slave state in order to stop a fight between the North and the South. But they balanced it out by letting Maine in as a free state. It also said that slavery was illegal to the north of a certain invisible line. What does this have to do with Scott? Well, we are getting to that.
Dred Scott was a good worker. When called by his master from another state, he went right to him. He did not try to get away. When Scott learned about the laws of the states and that in all rights, he should be free, but he did not act. Instead he waited until his master died before he tried to become free. Even then, he tried to go about it honestly, trying to buy his freedom from his master's wife for three hundred dollars. When that didn't work, he went to court. There, he showed that he had lived in a free state for many years. Under the eyes of the law, he should be free. He was in court for ten years trying to win his freedom. Scott vs Sanford was a court case that ended with the Supreme Court saying that any black Americans, no matter if they're free or not, could not go to federal court because they weren't American citizens under the eyes of the law. This was a problem. This also meant that the Missouri Compromise had no power and the government could not get in the way of states' rights when it came to private property. Even the government thought of black people as something to be owned. Yes, this story has a sad ending. Dred Scott stayed a slave. I admire him though, plain and simple. He learned the law and tried to get the courts to do right by him and the law. And I think the Supreme Court's full of a bunch of cowards who are too afraid of the people's vote to do the right thing. Like I said, I'm one of very few living in the South who agrees with the people in the North. Maybe because I'm one of the only ones who read up on the case and feels any sort of sympathy for these slaves. Scott was in court for ten years. And he's still a slave. It was his fight that made me give freedom to my slaves. Most people I know would sooner die than do something like that. People in the South are still mighty sore about it though. Tension's building between the North and the South. I think I smell a war coming.References:
PBS. "Dred Scott's fight for freedom" PBS, 2011. History.com. "Missouri Compromise" history.com, 2012.