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In this video, we'll learn about the US Supreme Court decision in Scott vs Sanford, handed down in 1857. The case ultimately rejected the idea that Black people could be citizens of the United States, and this helped entrench the institution of slavery, denied a host of rights to a huge number of people (both enslaved and free), and increased the tensions between abolitionists and enslavers.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!

Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (Oxford University Press, 1978).
The Historical Construction of Race and Citizenship in the United States -$file/Fredrick.pdf

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#crashcourse #history #dredscott

I’m Clint Smith and this is  Crash Course Black American History.   When you think of US citizenship, you might  think of your blue passport, or placing your   hand over your heart and saying the pledge  of allegiance, or waving an American flag   as you watch fireworks during the 4th  of July with a plate full of barbecue.   Citizenship is something that matters to people. Not only is citizenship a source of pride for   many, but it has vast implications for how  someone can live their life.

It can determine   where you work, where you can travel, whether or  not you can vote, and even if you’ll be allowed   to stay in the country with your family. But the very concept of citizenship--who   should be a citizen of the United States and  how people should be allowed to become one--has   been at the center of US political debates for  centuries. It was happening in the 18th century,   and it’s still happening today.

Today, in the US, according to the law,   if you’re born in this country you’re considered  a citizen. Shout out to the 14th amendment. But   it wasn’t always this way.

For  Black people in the 19th century,   the question of whether they were, or could ever  be, citizens of the United States, was part of   a decade-long court battle that centered on the  circumstances of a Black man named Dred Scott.   Though Scott’s case, which ultimately ended  up in the Supreme Court as Scott v. Sandford,   was initially about whether one man would be able  to live his life as free or enslaved, it became   something much larger, centered on the very  prospect and possibility of Black citizenship.   Let’s check it out. INTRO   The person at the center of this case, Dred  Scott, was an enslaved Black man who was   living in Missouri.

Historians estimate that he  was born into slavery around the start of the   19th century in Southhampton County, Virgina,  and his enslaver was a man named Peter Blow.   Scott was eventually purchased by  an army surgeon named John Emerson,   who moved Scott from the enslaved state  of Missouri, to the free state of Illinois   and then again to the free territory of Wisconsin.  There, Scott met and married his wife, Harriet   Robinson, and they started a family. By 1840  John Emerson’s wife Irene returned to St. Louis   along with Dred Scott and his family.

And in 1843, John died suddenly,   and Scott and his family became the sole property  of Irene. It’s possible that Dred Scott attempted   to buy he and his family’s freedom from Irene,  but from what historians can tell, she refused.   In 1846 Dred Scott filed a suit for his freedom  in a St. Louis district court.

His claim was based   on Missouri law and precedent that if an enslaved  person was relocated to a free state or territory,   they were then considered free, and  thus they couldn’t be re-enslaved   upon entering a slave state. And since  John Emerson had taken Dred Scott to live   in both Illinois and the Wisconsin territory at  various points--both of which were free domains--   it seemed like they had a pretty good case. After a bit of back and forth   Dred Scott eventually did win his  family’s freedom in 1850.   But the case got appealed to Missouri’s Supreme  Court, which ruled against the lower court’s   decision while noting, quote "Times now are  not as they were, when the former decisions   on this subject were made.” Dred Scott and  his family were sent back into slavery.   But Scott kept going.

He received assistance from  local abolitionists who helped him file suit in a   federal court. By then Irene had left Missouri  and remarried, and for reasons historians have   never quite figured out, the focus of the case  went to her brother, John Sanford. The case   eventually found its way to the US Supreme  Court.

But once the case got there,   things, to put it mildly, did not go well. The moment this case arrived at the Supreme   Court was a pivotal one in the larger context  of US history, because it was a time in which   the issue of slavery hugely animated the political  debates in Washington as the country expanded.   At the beginning of 1820, the United States was  composed of 22 states – a big jump up from the   original 13 colonies. The Louisiana Purchase  had doubled the landmass of the country   which meant that there were new states to admit.  And what this did was created some real tension   between the north and the south on the issue of  slavery.

Would the new states be free states?   Slave states? Would they get to decide for  themselves? Let’s go to the thought bubble.   The entire nation was dependent on slavery to  some extent, but some states, as we’ve discussed,   were more directly involved than others.

So,  with predominately northern states pushing to   end slavery, and southern states pushing  to keep it in place, it became a bit of a   moral and economic tug-of-war. This dispute led to the Missouri Compromise   which designated part of the Louisiana Purchase as  free territory and part of it as slave territory,   which would balance congressional power as more  states entered the Union. This compromise, though,   came at the expense of Black people’s lives.

But as the United States expanded,   more individuals wanted to  travel across state lines,   and that created some unique legal issues. The  core of Dred Scott’s legal argument was that he   had lived in free areas of the country with his  enslaver – Illinois and the Wisconsin territory.   The federal government, at this time,  did not have specific legislation   addressing the issue, so the United States  Supreme Court was left to sort things out. If   an enslaved person is moved from a slave state  to a free state, is that individual now free?   What if you’re riding on a train leaving a  slave state, and pass through a free state?   Is that Black person free on the train while  it’s in the free state but enslaved again when   it passes back into a slave state?

These were big  questions that the country was wrestling with.   And the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Thanks, Thought Bubble.   The Supreme Court ultimately did not buy Scott’s  arguments and justices sided 7-2 with Sanford.   Chief Justice Roger Taney  wrote in the majority opinion   that Scott did not, because he didn’t have the  standing to sue because enslaved African-Americans   were not citizens of the United States. And if that wasn’t enough,   Justice Taney stated that even free Black  people in the north could never be considered   citizens.

He wrote that Black people "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."   And in outlining the rationale for his decision he  stated that when the Constitution was framed and   adopted, Black people “had no rights which  the White man was bound to respect."   I have a lot of feelings about Taney that  aren’t appropriate to say in this video.   So let’s keep going before I get in trouble. What’s more, Taney’s decision declared that the   ban on slavery was unconstitutional in territories  that were part of the Louisiana Purchase and it   also upheld that neither Congress nor territorial  governments had the power to ban slavery.   This ruling infuriated abolitionists  who perceived this an an attempt   to prevent any debate and discussion about how and  where slavery would exist in the United States,   and further exacerbated the already high tensions  on the issue. Historians point to the decision as   one of the factors that more directly set  the country on the path towards Civil War.   This was a consequential, and deeply  shameful moment in American history.   Many historians consider it to be  the worst Supreme Court decision   ever.

And it’s hard not to agree. This decision created a new legal precedent   that solidified Black Americans’ status as an  underclass. It kept them from being able to vote,   from being able to defend themselves against  explicit discrimination or even domestic terrorism   at the hands of white Americans.

Black Americans  were sometimes successful in court after Scott v.   Sandford, but that wasn’t the norm, AND  Black people were now legally barred   from filing suits at the federal level. What  this did was limit the mobility of their cases.   Even after the ratification of the 14th Amendment  – which overturned Scott v. Sandford by upholding   birthright citizenship – African-Americans were  still treated in accordance with the ideas that   had been espoused in the case.

And later in  this series we’ll cover the experiences of   Black Americans between the 14th Amendment and  the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   They were not great. The Scott v. Sandford decision   also hung like a shadow over US immigration  policy for decades.

Scott v. Sandford – though   eventually overturned – perpetuated this idea  that if you were not considered a white American   then you were not entitled to dignity or safety. These ideologies pushed immigrants to start   proving in social settings and in  court that they were White enough   to have the benefits of citizenship, just to  get basic opportunities in the United States.   And this created deeper divisions between Black  Americans and many immigrant populations.   According to “The Historical Construction of  Race and Citizenship in the United States” – a   2003 report done by the United Nations  Research Institute for Social Development:   “Harder to imagine is conferring on  African-Americans the degree of respect   and recognition that would make them full and  equal citizens in substance as well as in law.   No other ethnoracial group was  enslaved for two-and-a-half centuries   in what became the United States, or, despite  the attainment of de jure citizenship in 1868,   was subjected to such an elaborate and  comprehensive system of legalized discrimination   and segregation.

There is a long history of the  incorporation of groups that initially inspired   hostility and discrimination but which were  able to exploit their putative whiteness to gain   entry at the expense of the perennial

Other: the  African-Americans who remain to the present day   the principal negative reference  group against which white--or   non-black--America persists in defining itself.” This is a powerful quote and a sobering one.   And what it shows is that while there has  most certainly been discrimination against   many different groups of people throughout  US history-- discrimination that must be   taken seriously--there is a specific sort of  insidiousness to the nature of anti-black racism   that is important for us to understand if we  are to fully account for our history.   Thanks for watching, I’ll see you next time. Crash Course is made with the help of all these   nice people and our animation team is Thought  Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production.   If you’d like to keep Crash Course free  for everybody, forever, you can support   the series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platform  that allows you to support the content you love.   Thank you to all of our patrons for making  Crash Course possible with their continued   support. *