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The Dreadful Dred Scott Decision, First Edition with Added Illustrations
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In Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote for a 6-2 majority, declaring that all blacks, slaves as well as free, were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise, and any law that prohibited slavery in a territory, to be unconstitutional, and that slaves did not become free when taken into free territory.

[Slavery]. Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Opinions of the Judges thereof, in the Case of Dred Scott versus John F.A. Sandford, December Term, 1856., Washington, DC: 239 pp. With engraved portraits of Dred and Harriet Scott from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 27, 1857, inserted on lined blue paper, a portrait of Scott's daughters pasted on page 633, a few early ink annotations. Published simultaneously in New York and Washington, D.C., both are considered the First Edition.

Inventory #26591       Price: $6,000

“The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea … compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they [people of African American ancestry] are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States….”

They had for more than a century before been regarded as 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; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery. . . . He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race….

The decision, since universally repudiated, was lauded in the south as solving the slavery question. In reality, it repudiated the compromises that had previously allowed for the expansion of slavery in some places but not others. It taught the North that neither political compromise nor justice could be relied on to settle sectional disputes. Thus, the extreme pro-slavery position of the Court helped to precipitate the Civil War.

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