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Seven Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Dred Scott and his wife remained slaves, while two felt that husband and wife were legally entitled to their freedom. Except for one Justice in the majority who was simply content with a brief note that he concurred with the thinking of the majority, each of the other six Justices in the majority felt compelled to write separate opinions.


Chief Justice Roger Taney, however, wrote the most important opinion for the majority. Taney initially addressed the question of whether Dred Scott was a citizen and therefore entitled to bring suit in a federal court: “The question is simply this: can a Negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen. One of these rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States … The words ‘people of the United States’ and ‘citizens’ are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing.” Taney then writes that the question the Court must answer is whether the Scotts are a part of “the people.” The answer, he states, is: “We think they 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. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.”

Taney next turned to the question of whether Dred Scott remained a slave after residing on free soil. Relative to this question, Taney wrote: “… it is the opinion of the court that the Act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; even if they had been carried there by the owner, with the intention of becoming a permanent resident …” Furthermore, Taney asserted, because “Scott was a slave when taken into the state of Illinois by his owner, and was there held as such, and brought back in that character, his status, as free or slave depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois.”