The Dred Scott Decision (1857) 25 words

Vocabulary from this pro-slavery Supreme Court decision illuminates how it brought the nation to the brink of the Civil War. In March of 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case. Scott, a slave, had been brought from a slave territory to a free territory and demanded his freedom. The Court ruled that as a slave, Scott was not a citizen and as such could not sue in the courts. The decision further polarized the North and the South and ended any chance of compromise on the issue of slavery.
  1. opinion
    the legal document stating the reasons for a judicial decision
    In the opinion of the Court the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument....
  2. legislation
    law enacted by a legislative body
    In the opinion of the Court the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument....
  3. declaration
    a formal public statement
    In the opinion of the Court the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument....
  4. import
    bring in from abroad
    In the opinion of the Court the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument....
  5. descendant
    a person considered as descended from some ancestor or race
    In the opinion of the Court the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument....
  6. inferior
    one of lesser rank or station or quality
    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 for his benefit.
  7. associate
    keep company with; hang out with
    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 for his benefit.
  8. social
    living together or enjoying life in communities or organized groups
    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 for his benefit.
  9. bound
    bound by contract
    Obligated to is a synonym for bound to.
    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 for his benefit.
  10. article
    one of a class of artifacts
    He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.
  11. merchandise
    commodities offered for sale
    He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.
  12. traffic
    trade or deal a commodity
    He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.
  13. liberal
    not literal
    No one, we presume, supposes that any change in public opinion or feeling, in relation to this unfortunate race, in the civilized nations of Europe or in this country should induce the Court to give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted....
  14. plaintiff
    a person who brings an action in a court of law
    We proceed...to inquire whether the facts relied on by the plaintiff entitle him to his freedom....
  15. involuntary
    not subject to the control of the will
    compulsory is a synonym for involuntary.
    The act of Congress, upon which the plaintiff relies, declares that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in all that part of the territory ceded by France, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude and not included within the limits of Missouri.
  16. servitude
    state of subjection to an owner or master or forced labor imposed as punishment
    Involuntary servitude is a synonym for slavery.
    The act of Congress, upon which the plaintiff relies, declares that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in all that part of the territory ceded by France, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude and not included within the limits of Missouri.
  17. cede
    relinquish possession or control over
    Surrendered or transfered are synonyms for ceded.
    The act of Congress, upon which the plaintiff relies, declares that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in all that part of the territory ceded by France, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude and not included within the limits of Missouri.
  18. latitude
    an imaginary line around the Earth parallel to the equator
    The act of Congress that established this latitude line was part of a larger set of agreements called the "Missouri Compromise."
    The act of Congress, upon which the plaintiff relies, declares that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in all that part of the territory ceded by France, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude and not included within the limits of Missouri.
  19. provision
    a stipulated condition
    As there is no express regulation in the Constitution defining the power which the general government may exercise over the person or property of a citizen in a territory thus acquired, the Court must necessarily look to the provisions and principles of the Constitution, and its distribution of powers, for the rules and principles by which its decisions must be governed.
  20. migrate
    move from one country or region to another and settle there
    Taking this rule to guide us, it may be safely assumed that citizens of the United States who migrate to a territory...cannot be ruled as mere colonists, dependent upon the will of the general government, and to be governed by any laws it may think proper to impose....
  21. abridge
    lessen, diminish, or curtail
    For example, no one, we presume, will contend that Congress can make any law in a territory respecting the establishment of religion...or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press....
  22. deprive
    take away
    An act of Congress which deprives a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property, without due process of law, merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States...could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.
  23. dignify
    confer dignity or honor upon
    An act of Congress which deprives a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property, without due process of law, merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States...could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.
  24. warrant
    show to be reasonable or provide adequate ground for
    Upon these considerations 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. . .
  25. void
    lacking any legal or binding force
    Upon these considerations 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 . . .