The Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott

The Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott vs. Sanford in which the Supreme Court ruled that a slave who escaped to a free state is still a slave and that as Chief Justice Roger B. Taney stated: “Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character…..

beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. " Taney’s decision disallowed African Americans from being treated as equals. Within the Northern states, there had always existed a small minority of radical Republicans like William Seward, a future member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and more notable figures like John Brown, who preached immediate abolition of all the slaves.

They were always in the minority but gained more converts after the Dred Scott decision. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous House Divided Speech in which he said that a nation can no longer remain half slave and half free and that a civil war was bound to occur. However, at this time, and it was echoed by President Lincoln, the main objective of a civil war as well as the efforts of his administration would be designed to preserve the Union. Only after the Emancipation Proclamation was written did the Civil War officially become the chief reason for the Civil War.

Within the Southern States, their view of slavery was much more concrete. There was a natural belief in the inferiority of the slaves as well as the importance of the institution of slavery among the Southern States. John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina and one of the most vocal defenders of slavery, said that slavery had become such an important part of the culture and economics of Southern Society that to kill slavery would be the same as killing the South.

Since the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1793, the demand for slavery exploded and large plantations rose up all over the South. Such apathy, coupled with the tightening reign that the South had towards Jim Crow, led to one of the most important and controversial Supreme Court decisions in its entire History. Not since the Dred Scott case of 1857, did the Supreme Court so forcefully proclaim that African Americans were not equally protected under the law.

The case began in 1892 when Homer Plessey, an individual only 1/8th African American, but still dark enough not to be considered white, attempted to board a train in Louisiana in the section reserved for whites. He refused to move when asked and was arrested. He was found guilty and fined $300. He appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court in 1896 and one of the most important cases in United States History was about to be heard. The historical and social importance of the ruling cannot be underestimated.

There is no way of knowing the blow that could have been levied against segregation had the Supreme Court Justices ruled that segregation was unconstitutional and against the law. “What is known however, is the fact that of the eight justices who ruled in the case, seven ruled in favor of the railroad company and in response, gave their famous and what many considered to be a highly incorrect explanation of  “separate but equal” as a way to justify the conditions which African Americans faced on a daily basis.

”  Its majority opinion is still one of the most controversial that the Supreme Court has ever given down to the people of this country. The majority opinion was written by Justice Brown and some of the highlights states: “It was said that the act of a mere individual, the owner of an inn, a public conveyance or place of amusement, refusing accommodations to colored people, cannot be justly regarded as imposing any language of slavery or servitude upon the applicant. ”