Little Bits of History

From Property to Human

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 26, 2014
Dred Scott

Dred Scott

May 26, 1857: Dred Scott becomes a free man. Dred (Sam) Scott was born into slavery around 1799 in Southampton County, Virginia. He belonged to the Peter Blow family. He had an older brother named Dred, and when he died, Sam assumed the name in his honor. The Blow family moved to Huntsville, Alabama and were unsuccessful in farming endeavors there. In 1830, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri and sold Dred to John Emerson, a doctor serving with the US Army. In 1836, Dred met Harriet Robison, a teenaged slave belonging to Major Lawrence Taliaferro who was from Virginia. They were permitted to marry and Taliaferro transferred ownership of Harriet to Emerson. Emerson himself married and both new families moved frequently and returned to Missouri where in 1842 Emerson left the army.

They moved to the Iowa Territory in 1843 and Emerson died, leaving his estate to his wife, Irene. She now owned the Scotts and she leased them out as hired slaves for the next three years. In 1846, Scott attempted to purchase his family from Irene but she refused to sell. Since he couldn’t buy his freedom, he filed suit in St. Louis Circuit Court. Scott v Emerson was heard in the federal-state courthouse in St. Louis in 1847 and the judgment went to Emerson but the evidence was deemed hearsay and so the judge called for a retrial. In 1850, a Missouri jury found that Scott and his family should be freed as they were illegally held as slaves during their extended residence in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal.

Because women weren’t of much better standing that slaves, it was found that when Emerson died, his property should have been transferred to his wife’s brother, John Sanford, a resident of New York. So Scott’s lawyers brought a case in New York claiming diverse citizenship and the case was filed in federal court. Scott again lost and so the case was brought to the US Supreme Court in Dred Scott v Sandford (typo by a clerk) and the high court found that any one of African descent, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the US, according to the Constitution. It also found the Ordinance of 1787 did not apply to non-whites. The Act of 1820 (the Missouri Compromise) was also not valid. In short, African-Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship.

Scott was returned to Irene whose brother had been committed to an insane asylum in the interim. In 1850, Irene had remarried Calvin Chaffee, an abolitionist and member of the US Congress. He was unaware until shortly before the marriage, that his wife owned the most famous slave in the country. He persuaded his wife to return the Scott family to the Blow family, the original owners but they were now living in Missouri and had becomes opponents of slavery. So only three months after the Supreme Court ruling, Henry Blow freed Scott, his wife, and their two daughters. Only 17 months later, Scott died of tuberculosis in St. Louis where he had supported his family working as a porter.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. – Abraham Lincoln

Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery. – Maya Angelou

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. – George Washington

Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden. – Desmond Tutu

Also on this day: Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Complex Napoleon – In 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.

Missouri Compromise

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 6, 2013
Missouri Compromise

Missouri Compromise

March 6, 1820: US President James Monroe signs the Missouri Compromise into law. The Compromise was reached between the anti-slavery and pro-slavery states concerning the western territories. The Louisiana Territory covered a vast area of land purchased from France in 1805. Louisiana was the first state created from the new land. Next, the District of Arkansas was formed. The Upper Louisiana Territory covered lands all the way to the Canadian border.

Link for the changing map showing slave and free states is here.

There were an even number of free and slave states in the Union. The Compromise allowed for two new states to be admitted – Maine (a free state) and Missouri (a slave state). With the exception of the lands included within Missouri’s borders, all territory north of the 36’30º latitude line would prohibit slavery. The Compromise was not easily reached. On February 17, 1820, the Senate agreed to prohibit slavery in the Louisiana Territory, except for Missouri, by a vote of 24 to 20. The House of Representatives rejected the bill.

The House would permit Missouri’s request for statehood without slavery by March 1. More meetings. On March 2, the House again voted and Missouri was allowed slavery with a vote of 90 to 87 and the rest of the Louisiana Territory would prohibit slavery with a vote of 134 to 42. Compromise was reached, for a time, and the President signed the Bill into Law. The wide open lands of the west brought settlers to the area and other lands began to ask for admittance to the Union.

In 1854, while trying to create opportunities for building a railroad, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was slightly altered by Stephen A. Douglas (D-Illinois) who wrote in a piece concerning popular sovereignty. This would allow states to choose for themselves whether or not to permit slavery within their borders. Prohibiting slavery in Territories was also excluded. The passage of this Act legally eliminated the Missouri Compromise. In the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, the US Supreme Court ruled the Missouri Compromise as unconstitutional and also found that blacks and mulattos did not qualify as US citizens.

“The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.” – Ayn Rand

“Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change.” – Jane Goodall

“From the beginning of our history the country has been afflicted with compromise. It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned. I insist that this shall cease. The country needs repose after all its trials; it deserves repose. And repose can only be found in everlasting principles.” – Charles Sumner

“All government – indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act – is founded on compromise and barter.” – Edmund Burke

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US, 393 was argued February 11-14, 1856 and reargued December 15-18 of the same year. The decision was handed down on March 6, 1857 – exactly 37 years after the Missouri Compromise was signed into law. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the territories. It also held that people of African descent, whether free or slave, were not covered by the Constitution and were not citizens of the US. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted on July 9, 1868, overruled the decision once again and declared that all persons born in the US were citizens with all the rights and responsibilities that entailed. There were still issues with Native Americans who were part of tribal nations to be resolved at later dates.

Also on this day: Edgar Allan Poe – In 1831, Poe was expelled from West Point.

Remember the Alamo – In 1836, the Alamo fell.
Aches and Pains – In 1899, aspirin was patented.