Dred Scott Case

Negro Protest Over the Dred Scott Decision


The response by free Negroes to the Dred Scott decision was swift and angry. They objected vehemently to the Supreme Court's ruling that Negro slaves and the freed descendants of slaves could not claim citizenship or bring suit in court; that a Negro could not claim the status of a freeman by virtue of residence in a free state; and that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional because Congress had no authority to exclude slavery from the territories. The following resolutions of protest delivered by Robert Purvis and Charles L. Remond to a Negro meeting at Israel Church, Philadelphia, on April 3, 1857, are typical of Negro reaction to Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Liberator, April 10, 1857.

Resolutions by Robert Purvis

Whereas, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided in the case of Dred Scott that people of African descent are not and cannot be citizens of the United States, and cannot sue in any of the United States courts; and, Whereas, the Court, in rendering its decision, has declared that:

this unfortunate class have, with the civilized and enlightened portion of the world, for more than a century, been regarded as being of an inferior order and unfit associates for the white race, either socially or politically, having no rights which white men are bound to respect;

and, Whereas, this Supreme Court is the constitutionally approved tribunal to determine all such questions; therefore,

Resolved, that this atrocious decision furnishes final confirmation of the already well-known fact that, under the Constitution and government of the United States, the colored people are nothing and can be nothing but an alien, disfranchised, and degraded class.

Resolved, that to attempt, as some do, to prove that there is no support given to slavery in the Constitution and essential structure of the American government is to argue against reason and common sense, to ignore history, and shut our eyes against palpable facts; and that while it may suit white men, who do not feel the iron heel, to please themselves with such theories, it ill becomes the man of color, whose daily experience refutes the absurdity, to indulge in any such idle fantasies.

Resolved, that to persist in supporting a government which holds and exercises the power, as distinctly set forth by a tribunal from which there is no appeal, to trample a class underfoot as an inferior and degraded race, is on the part of the colored man at once the height of folly and the depth of pusillanimity.

Resolved, that no allegiance is due from any man, or any class of men, to a government founded and administered in iniquity, and that the only duty the colored man owes to a Constitution under which he is declared to be an inferior and degraded being, having no rights which white men are bound to respect, is to denounce and repudiate it, and to do what he can by all proper means to bring it into contempt.


Resolutions by C. L. Remond

Resolved, that though many of our fathers and some of us have, in time past, exercised the right of American citizenship, this was when a better spirit pervaded the land, and when the patriotic services of colored men in the defense of the country were fresh in the minds of the people; but that the power to oppress us lurked all the time in the Constitution, only waiting to be developed; and that now, when it suits the slave oligarchy to assert that power, we are made to feel its grinding weight.

Resolved, that what little remains to us of political rights in individual states, we hold, as we conceive, only by sufferance; and that when it suits the purposes of the slave power to do so, they will command their obedient, doughfaced allies at the North to take these rights away from us and leave us no more place under the state government than we have under the federal.

Resolved, that we rejoice that slaveholding despotism lays its ruthless hand, not only on the humble black man but on the proud Northern white man; and our hope is that when our white fellow slaves in these so-called free states see that they are alike subject with us to the slave oligarchy, the difference in our servitude being only in degree, they will make common cause with us, and that, throwing off the yoke and striking for impartial liberty, they will join with us in our efforts to recover the long lost boon of freedom.

To cite this page:
" Negro Protest Over the Dred Scott Decision," Annals of American History.
[Accessed December 10, 2007].


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