At the dedication of the Roger Brooke Taney Bust in Frederick on September 26, 1931, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes concluded that "it is unfortunate that the estimate of Chief Justice Taney's judicial labors should have been so largely inﬂuenced by the opinion which he delivered in the case of Dred Scott [v Sandford]."
Dred and Harriet Scott were slaves who sued for their freedom after being taken from the slave state of Missouri into territory in which slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. Remarkably, Dred and Harriet Scott managed to litigate for the emancipation of themselves and their two children, through two trials in the Missouri state courts, two appeals before the Missouri Supreme Court, a trial in the Federal Circuit Court in Missouri, and ﬁnally an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Taney announced the decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African slaves and their descendants were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not bring suit in the Federal Courts. Chief Justice Taney predicated this ruling upon his assertion that at the time the U.S. Constitution was framed, the "civilized portion of the white race" universally regarded "negroes" as "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unﬁt to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; ...that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
One year later (1858), President Lincoln gave his famous speech entitled "House Divided" in which he argued that the Dred Scott decision was the product of a concerted effort by pro-slavery forces including Chief Justice Taney and President Buchanan to establish the legal underpinnings of a Union in which the right to own slaves would be guaranteed in all of the States and territories. This truly set the stage for the Civil War.
A direct outcome of the Civil War was the "Reconstruction Amendments" to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) specifically nullified the definition of citizenship set forth in the Dred Scott decision and later became the basis for the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which decision ended legal segregation. The Fifteenth Amendment (I870) prohibits the States as well as the Federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of race.
The publicity generated by the case resulted in pressure that caused the owners of the Scott family to transfer ownership to Dred Scott's original owners, who then (two months after the Dred Scott decision was announced) emancipated the Scott family. Dred Scott died nine months after being emancipated. Harriet Scott died in 1876.
The unenlightened racial view found in the pivotal Dred Scott Decision, the national debate that ensued, the bloodshed of the Civil War that followed — all make it important to comprehend the historical context of our past and to continue our progress towards racial equality.
Installed by the citizens of Frederick in the year 2009