A Condensed Report of the Unprecedented Case of Dred Scott vs. J—Sanford

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    “A Condensed Report of the Unprecedented Case of Dred Scott vs. J—Sanford,” Boston (MA) Liberator, June 12, 1857, p. 4: 2.
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    Boston Liberator
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    A Condensed Report of the Unprecedented Case of Dred Scott vs. J—Sanford
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    Matt Dudek
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    Dred Scott vs. J – Sanford. In the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
    Judge Taney cometh into court with great dignity. He driveth five Negroes. He carrieth whip, and chains, and manuscripts. He placeth a large negro in front. He putteth gyves on his ankles. He fasteneth hand-cuffs on his wrists. He prostrateth another negro with his face downward, behind the negro aforesaid. He compelleth the third negro to stand on all fours, between the two aforementioned Negroes. He placeth the two remaining Negroes, one at one end, and the other at the other end, of the negro who standeth on all fours. Six of the other Judges appear in Court, dressed in long, black silk robes; mounted on the shoulders of Negroes. Three of these Judges take position on the right, and three of them on the left hand of Chief Justice Taney. Judge Taney then placeth one foot on the back of the prostate negro. He putteth a hand on the shoulder of either negro who standeth in position before him. He placeth his other foot on the back of the quadruped negro, and he vaulteth himself on to the shoulders of the manacled negro with such judicial dignity as persuadeth all persons that he is in truth and fact a just Judge, who will impartially administer the law. He putteth a padlock on the lips of the negro. He directeth the marshal to open court. He inviteth Dr. Prime to pray. He unfoldeth a manuscript, and readeth as follows:-
    Dred Scott vs. J – Sanford. This is an important case. It has been twice argued at length, but for obvious reasons the decision has been deferred until after the Presidential election. We feel that it would not be inappropriate in this place to indulge, for a moment, in a commendatory gratulation on the happy practical working of our free government,- the most glorious the world ever beheld. Here alone in all the earth freedom has taken up her abode, and here she has established the patriarchal institution of slavery, as the chief corner-stone of her temple. ‘Respect for the Constitution and the laws,’ is the motto inscribed over her altars; while the polar star of our courts, in their interpretation and administration of the laws, are truth and justice. Progress and improvement mark the path of our destiny, and a perfect liberty will soon be ours. Within the last half century, the most dangerous opinions to liberty, and to a republican form of government, have pervaded the whole land. It will not be amiss to enumerate a few of them, as we can thereby the more readily see how great has been our progress. It has been held – that slavery was wrong- that man could not hold property in man,- that it was the policy of the country to eradicate, and not to foster slavery,- that a slave, taken or sent into a free State, thereby became free,- that a voluntary return to bondage did not clothe his former master with his original right,- that a slave owner could not even sojourn in a free State with his slave, without losing him, if the slave should claim his freedom,- that slaveholders had no right to hold slaves in the territories of the United States,- that black men from the free States had the right of ingress and regress to and from the slave States,- that vessels from the free States had a right to navigate the public waters of the slave States, free from the right of search,- that the slave States had no right to close the United States Courts against suitors from the free States, nor to imprison men for speaking and writing against slavery,- that the mails might carry Abolition newspapers into the slave States,- that resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law was not treason,- and that it was the duty of the Courts to protect the rights of all persons, without regard to their condition. By the happy and benign working of our free institutions, all these heresies have been corrected. But the last grand step, taken in the true direction of freedom, is that which was taken in the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act. This act asserts and maintains the true position of unshackled and unfettered liberty,- that the people are supreme; that they have a right to establish such institutions as pleases them, whether of the highest virtue, or of the deepest wickedness; and so absolutely is this right of self-government asserted, that it is claimed to be above the laws of God, and ‘subject only to the Constitution of the United States.’ This we think is the true ground, and the only one a free people can assent to. But to return from this digression.
    The plaintiff alleges, that being a slave, he was voluntarily taken into a free States, by his master, whereby ipso facto free; and he comes into court, and claims his freedom. The court is not inclined to consider the law, the justice, nor the reasons urged in his behalf. To do so would be useless supererogation. The plaintiff has no right to sue. He is not legally in court. He is not a citizen of the United States, and can sustain no suit in this court. We have no jurisdiction of his case. But we prefer to place our decision on other and broader grounds;-on a principle so broad, that it will exclude all the most troublesome cases that have ever vexed this court. The opinion of the court then is, ‘That the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.’ This covers the whole ground. If the plaintiff was free, when taken to a free State, he could at any time be again reduced to bondage, by his own showing, and ‘having no rights that the white man is bound to respect,’ he is held in lawful slavery. It may be urged that our decision is too verbose, and that it would better suit the terseness of legal lore to say that ‘the black man had no legal rights.’ We do not think so. We understand too well the force of language. Even a horse has rights, which the court will protect when he is beaten with unfeeling cruelty. The court do not hesitate to declare that they will go farther to protect the rights of the black man, than they will to protect those of the horse. The black man has rights. He has the right to life, to liberty, and to property. If he raises a horse, he has a right to lead that horse, and nobody but a white man can legally divest him of it without his consent. But if the white man takes the horse without his consent, or without paying therfor, he may well do so, for ‘the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.’ Should the white man elect to reduce the black man to slavery, and wife and children also,- to sell on to one man, and another to another person, he may do so, because ‘the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.’ It will be readily seen that though ‘the black man that the white man is bound to respect,’ the rule does not apply to a case where both parties are black. In the case now before the court, if it should appear on the face of the pleadings that both parties are black, a very different rule would govern. We do not decide that one black man may not hold another as his slave, but we do decide ‘that the black man is bound to respect the rights of his brother black man.’ He is bound in law and in justice, to respect the rights of both black and white men. There is nothing in the pleadings nor other proceedings in this case, to show whether Sanford is black or white, but standing as he does in the relation of a slave master, the legal presumption is that he is white, and hence he ‘is not bound to respect the rights of the black man.’ The court decide that the plaintiff is not a citizen of the United States, and that being a black man, he has ‘no rights that the white man is bound to respect. This case is dismissed for want of jurisdiction. As the plaintiff is a slave, no judgment can be rendered against him for costs; but unless the costs are paid by the United States, the court order a decree, that the defendant pay the costs within sixty days from the rising of the court, and that in default thereof, the plaintiff be sold at public outcry to the highest bidder, to pay said costs, and if the amount so made be not sufficient to pay the same, that the plaintiff’s wife, and then his children consecutively, in the order of their ages, be sold to pay the same, and that the marshal make return of his proceedings to the next term of this court. Judge Taney then ordered the marshal to adjourn the court; the judges retired in the same order that they entered, greatly rejoicing that they had once more ‘saved our glorious Union.’-L.
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