February 13, 2012


Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Most of us know that he was the 16th President of the United States, until his assassination by John Wilkes Booth; and that he promoted the passage of The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.  But, probably less of us know that in March 1857,  while as a candidate for Illinois Senator, Mr. Lincoln argued against slavery – denouncing the Supreme Court Decision in the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case, which opined that “black people were not citizens and derived no rights from The Constitution.”  In his speech, Mr. Lincoln alleged that the decision “was the product of a conspiracy of Democrats to support the Slave Power. He argued, "The authors of the Declaration of Independence never intended 'to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity', but they 'did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'.”

Abe Lincoln re: Scott vs. Sandford Decision

So, who was Dred Scott?

Dred Scott was an African-American slave who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters. His 1857 case was very famous, and has been forever known as ‘The Dred Scott Decision’. His suit first went to trial in 1847, but he lost on a technicality because he couldn't prove that he and Harriet were owned by his master's widow. Ten years later, after a decade of appeals and court reversals, his case was finally brought before the United States Supreme Court. The case was based on the fact that although he and his wife, Harriet Scott, were slaves, he had lived with his master Dr. John Emerson in States and territories where slavery was illegal according to both State laws and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, including Illinois and Minnesota (which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory).

Harriet and Dred Scott

In the late 1790s, Dred Scott was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia, as property to the Peter Blow family. From what experts can conclude, he was originally named Sam and had an older brother named Dred. However, when his brother died as a young man, ‘Sam’ chose to take his brother's name instead. The Blow family settled near Huntsville, Alabama, where they unsuccessfully attempted farming. In 1830, the Blow family took Dred with them when they relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. They sold him to John Emerson, a doctor serving in the United States Army.

Dr. Emerson later took Dred to the free State of Illinois. In the spring of 1836, after a stay of two and a half years, the doctor moved to a fort in the Wisconsin Territory, taking Dred along. While there, Dred met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by an army officer from Virginia. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Dr. Emerson, so they could be together.

Dred’s and Harriet’s extended stay in Illinois, a free State, gave him the legal standing to make a claim for freedom, as did his extended stay in Wisconsin, where slavery was also prohibited. But Dred never made the claim while living in the free lands – perhaps because he was unaware of his rights at the time; or perhaps because he was content with his master. After two years, the army transferred Dr. Emerson to the south: first to St Louis, then to Louisiana. A little over a year later, a recently-married Dr. Emerson summoned his slave couple. Instead of staying in the free territory of Wisconsin, or going to the free State of Illinois, the two traveled over a thousand miles, apparently unaccompanied, down the Mississippi River to meet their master. Only after Dr. Emerson's death in 1843, after his widow hired Dred out to an army captain, did Dred seek freedom for himself and his wife. First he offered to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson – then living in St. Louis – for $300, which was a huge sum of money, at that time. The offer was refused. Dred then sought freedom through the courts. During that time, Harriet had two daughters and two sons; but the sons did not survive past infancy.

The Scott v. Emerson case was tried in 1847 in the federal-state courthouse in St. Louis. The judgment went against Dred, but having found evidence of hearsay, the judge called for a retrial.

In 1850, a Missouri jury concluded that Dred and his wife should be granted freedom since they had been illegally held as slaves during their extended residence in the free jurisdictions of Illinois and Wisconsin. Irene Emerson appealed. In 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the lower court ruling, saying, "Times now are not as they were when the previous decisions on this subject were made." They ruled that the precedent of "once free always free" was no longer the case, overturning 28 years of legal precedent. They told the Scotts they should have sued for freedom in Wisconsin. Justice Hamilton R. Gamble, a future Governor of the State, sharply disagreed with the majority decision and wrote a dissenting opinion. The Scotts were returned to Mrs. Emerson.

Under Missouri law at the time, after Dr. Emerson had died, powers of the Emerson estate were transferred to his wife's brother, John F. A. Sanford. Because Sanford was a citizen of New York, Dred’s lawyers "claimed the case should now be brought before the Federal courts, on the grounds of diverse citizenship." With the assistance of new lawyers (including Montgomery Blair), the Scotts filed suit in the federal court. After losing again in federal district court, they appealed to the United States Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford. (The name is spelled 'Sandford' in the court decision due to a clerical error.)

The nine justices of the Supreme Court of 1856 certainly had biases regarding slavery. Seven had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South, and of these, five were from slave-holding families. They voted 7-2 against Dred and his family.

The decision of the court was read in March of 1857. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney – a staunch supporter of slavery – wrote the majority opinion for the court. Judge Taney ruled that:
·        Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution. (Note: Only 3/5ths of a state's slave population total was counted in their population total. Contrary to popular belief, slaves were not counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of congressional representation. They were considered property in historic records. There were free blacks in several of the 13 states when the Constitution was written. Their number increased dramatically in the Upper South in the first two decades after the Revolution; for instance, by 1810, fully 10 percent of the population in the Upper South were free blacks, as numerous slaveholders manumitted their slaves in this period, inspired by Revolutionary principles of equality.)
·        The Ordinance of 1787 could not confer either freedom or citizenship within the Northwest Territory to non-white individuals.
·        The provisions of the Act of 1820, known as the Missouri Compromise, were voided as a legislative act, since the act exceeded the powers of Congress, insofar as it attempted to exclude slavery and impart freedom and citizenship to non-white persons in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase.
The Court had ruled that African-Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship. Since they were not citizens, they did not possess the legal standing to bring suit in a federal court. As slaves were private property, Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery in the territories and could not revoke a slave owner's rights based on where he lived. This decision nullified the essence of the Missouri Compromise, which divided territories into jurisdictions either free or slave. Speaking for the majority, Judge Taney ruled that because Dred was simply considered the private property of his owners, that he was subject to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the taking of property from its owner "without due process".

While the decision was well-received by slaveholders in the South, many northerners were outraged. The decision greatly influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the Republican Party and his subsequent election, which in turn led to the South's secession from the Union.

By this time, The Blow family had relocated to Missouri and become opponents of slavery, granting the Scotts emancipation by Henry Taylor Blow on May 26, 1857, less than three months after the Supreme Court ruling. Dred went to work as a porter in St. Louis for nearly 17 months before he died from tuberculosis in September 1858. He was survived by his wife and two daughters, and is buried in St. Louis. In 1997, Dred and Harriet Scott were inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Dred Scott was an incredibly courageous man, who just wanted to prove that was a ‘man’ and not a piece of ‘property’. His courage and legal actions changed history; and paved the way for abolition of slavery, for which I will always be grateful.

St. Louis was home for Dred and his family, for many years. Try this delicious Pepper Steak recipe, when you fancy something a little something fancier for dinner. Enjoy!

St. Louis Pepper Steak
By Top of the Riverfront, Millennium Hotel, St. Louis
Yields 4

·        4 (6-ounce) beef fillets (have the butcher cut them in 1/2 to make 8 (3-ounce) fillets)
·        Salt
·        1 cup coarsely cracked black peppercorns
·        2 tablespoons olive oil
·        2 tablespoons unsalted butter
·        2 teaspoons finely diced garlic
·        2 teaspoons finely diced shallots
·        1/3 cup brandy or cognac
·        2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
·        2 tablespoons pure clover honey
·        1/4 cup stone ground mustard

Lightly salt both sides of the fillets. Then press each side firmly into the cracked pepper to coat.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on high heat. Add the fillets to the pan and cook to the desired temperature. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Note: after removing from heat the fillets will continue to cook, so better under than over. 1 to 2 minutes per side for rare (cold red center); 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare (warm red center); 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium (hot pink center); 7 to 8 minutes per side for medium well (hot very little pink center); 8 to 9 minutes per side for well (hot center NO pink at all).
In the same pan over medium-high heat, add the butter, garlic, and shallots and cook until golden brown. Remove from the heat and carefully pour in the brandy or cognac. Alcohol is very flammable, so have a lid handy. Put the pan back on the stove on medium to medium-high heat and add the heavy cream. Cook until reduced by half, about 6 to 8 minutes. Whisk in the honey and mustard. Adjust seasoning with salt, if desired.
Plate the fillets, finish with the sauce, and enjoy. Serve with your favorite starch and vegetable. At the Top of the Riverfront we serve with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed fresh vegetables in season.

Sources: Wikipedia, PBS, Google, Bing, Food Network

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