Dred Scott v. Sandford Case Analysis



Case Brief and Notes


Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)


The Taney Court

Facts of the Case:

Dred Scott was born in Virginia, where he grew up before moving to Alabama. In the new state, Scott was owned by Peter Blow, who took him and five other slaves to work in a farm close to Huntsville. Later, when Blow gave up on his farming expedition, he sold Scott to Emerson, who took him to Illinois, a free state. Afterward, Emerson moved with Scott, now married, to Fort Snelling, where he left the young family to pursue their life endeavors. However, Emerson still hired Scott, contrary to the Missouri compromise, which prohibited slavery as it was a free state. After Emerson’s death, Scott struggled to break free to no attempt. He opted to sue Emerson’s wife because he believed in the impact of legal recourse. However, the court insisted that he was still a slave because of his foreign identity.

After being sold to John Sandford, Scott was now more determined than ever to break from the yoke of slavery. His decision to sue his current owner was inspired by the case’s outcome that ruled in his owner’s favor. Unlike in his previous attempt, he lodged the issue in a federal court, hoping to receive the much-needed justice that would allow him to enjoy freedom with his young family. Scott’s claims were based on his identity as a free man after visiting and residing in a free state. However, Scott lost the case due to a technicality that hindered him from proving that Emerson’s wife was his owner.

After transferring Scott’s ownership to her brother, John Sandford, Emerson’s wife relinquished her involvement in the case. In this regard, the court found zero ties that portrayed Sandford as the executor of Scott’s identity as a slave. With the lack of documents to show the transfer of ownership, the case was dead on arrival because of Scott’s inability to prove Sandford’s ownership over him and his young family. In the federal court, the jury ruled in Sandford’s favor, a move that compelled Scott to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the challenging nature of the case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision that Scott was a foreigner and lacked the requisite standing to sue in a federal court.


The Scott v. Sandford case represents a challenging situation where men and women of African-American descend could not free themselves using the legal recourse. Despite the grueling nature of slavery practices and their impact on people’s lifestyles, the Black Community could not recuse itself from slavery. In this case, the court’s decision demonstrated the judiciary’s role in creating an enabling environment for the white population to benefit from the slavery laws. Likewise, the conclusion encouraged white owners to practice slavery because of Black men’s and women’s inability to challenge the practice by seeking legal recourse. Given their challenging identity, it would be impossible for any other slaves to sue their owners to free themselves. In the same vein, the court ruling set a dangerous precedence that appeared to promote slavery because of the clause limiting individuals of African descend from becoming American citizens. By basing an appellant’s identity to deny him or her their human rights appeared to be an intentional campaign by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize slavery across the country.


The case of Scott v. Sandford’s legal battle began in 1846 when Scott decided to purchase his family’s freedom by suing Emerson’s wife after his death. One year later, Scott lost the case on a technicality after failing to demonstrate that Emerson’s wife was his owner. Shortly after losing his case in 1847, Judge Alexander Hamilton granted Scott a trial, which was delayed due to a cholera outbreak. However, the Missouri Supreme Court maintained that Scott was still a slave and that he should have sued his owner in a free state. Since the Blow family were no longer willing to pay for Scott’s legal fees, the case appeared dead on arrival. Scott’s decision to sue his current owner was inspired by his constant pressure to purchase freedom for his young family. However, Scott took a different turn to sue Sandford in a federal court. Before appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, the jury had ruled in Sandford’s favor and insisted that he remain a slave. In an unexpected twist of events, the Taney Court ruled that Scott had no standing to sue an American citizen in a federal court as a foreigner of African descent.


Chief Justice Taney decision

  1. The constitutional aspect

Scott violated the constitution by suing Sandford with his foreign identity that lacked merit in a law court.

  1. Limited jurisdiction

Since the court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to prosecute, Scott lost the case on arrival because of his identity as a negro imported to the U.S. as a slave.

  1. Constitutional identity

Chief Justice Taney ruled that slaves were considered property under the Fifth Amendment, which indicated that any attempt by slaves to deprive their owners of this right was unconstitutional.


Dred Scott v Sandford is one of the landmark rulings that became the defining moment in the American legal context because of their impact on the perspectives of individuals. Many individuals, including policymakers, attacked Taney’s decision to seek the legalization of slavery when the abolitionists were making significant strides breaking the evil practice. In his dissenting ruling, Benjamin Robbins Curtis accused Taney of neglecting the appellant’s human aspect and criticized his decision to throw out the case on a technicality. Given that the Dred Scott v Sandford was a test case, there was a need for the U.S. Supreme Court to set a precedence that would inspire subsequent rulings to make the world a better place. From the ruling, it would be impossible for other African descent individuals to purchase freedom by suing their owners because the court would throw out the case on a technicality based on their identity. By considering slaves a property of the owners provided in the Fifth Amendment, Chief Justice Taney set a dangerous precedent that made it unconstitutional for slaves to purchase freedom by suing their owners. Even though Scott Dred and his family achieved independence after his previous owner issued a manumission to Judge Hamilton, the process had a significant impact on African Americans’ interactions with the natural citizens. The Dred Scott v Sandford case demonstrates the few instances where the court failed to apply empathy in its ruling by poking holes in the appellant’s submissions.

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