Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Daniel, Peter V. (1784-1860) The opinion of Justice Peter V. Daniel of the United States Supreme Court in the famous Dred Scott case.

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also request a pdf of the image from us here.

Log in
or
subscribe to see this thumbnail image

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02546.01 Author/Creator: Daniel, Peter V. (1784-1860) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Autograph manuscript Date: 7 March 1857 Pagination: 46 p. ; 33 x 22.3 cm.

A high-resolution version of this object is available for registered users. LOG IN or SUBSCRIBE

Summary of Content: Daniel's original manuscript of his opinion on the Dred Scott case, bound into a book. Daniels, a passionate slavery advocate, argues that slavery had more protection under the Constitution than any other form of property. He supports the majority opinion of Justice Taney, but goes farther, asserting the unconstitutionality of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Contains pencil notes, and numerous insertions and deletions in Daniel's hand, including slips of paper. With a later title page in another hand. This copy was used by the printers for the official printing of Daniel's opinion.

Background Information: Peter V. Daniel was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Full Transcript: [cover page]
The Opinion of
Justice Peter V. Daniel
of the United States Supreme Court
in the Famous Dred Scott Case

Original Manuscript
[title page]
Supreme Court of the United ...States
No 7 December Seven 1856.
Dred Scott } In error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the
Plff in Er } District of Missouri. -
vs }
John F. A. Sandford }

Mr. Justice Daniel. -

No 7. Scott vs Sandford.
[1] Dred Scott Plaintiff
vs
John F A Sandford Defendant.
In Error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri.

It may with truth be affirmed, that since the establishment of the several communities now constituting the States of this Confederacy, there never has been submitted to any tribunal within its limits questions surpassing in importance those now claiming the consideration of this Court. Indeed it is difficult to imagine in connection with the systems of polity peculiar to the United States a conjuncture of graver import than that must be, within which it is aimed to comprise, and to control, not only the faculties and practical operation appropriate to the american confederacy [inserted: as such,] but also the rights and powers of its separate and independent members, with reference alike to their internal and domestic authority and interests, and the relations they sustain to their confederates. -
To my mind it is evident, that nothing less than the ambitious and [inserted: far] reaching pretension to compress these objects of vital concern, is either directly essayed, or necessarily implied in the positions attempted in the argument for the Plaintiff in Error.
How far these positions have any foundation [2] in the nature of the rights and relations of separate, equal, and independent Governments: or in [inserted: the positions of] our own federal compact, or the laws enacted under and in pursuance of the authority of that compact, will be presently investigated.
In order correctly to comprehend the tendency and force of those positions, it is proper here succinctly to advert to the facts upon which the questions of law propounded in the Argument have arisen. -
This was an action of Trespass vix armis instituted in the circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri, in the name of the Plaintiff in Error [inserted: a negro held as a slave,] for the recovery of freedom for himself, his wife, and two children also negroes.
To the Declaration in this case the Defendant below, who is also the Defendant in error, pleaded in abatement that the Court could not take cognizance of the cause, because the Plaintiff was not a Citizen of the State of Missouri as averred in the declaration, but was a negro of African descent, and that his Ancestors were of pure African blood, and were brought into this Country and sold as [struck: Slaves] negro slaves, and [struck: that] hence it followed, from the 2nd Section of the 3rd Article of the Constitution, which creates the Judicial power of the United States with respect to controversies between Citizens of different States, [inserted: that] the Circuit Court could not take cognizance of the action.
[3] To this plea in abatement a demurrer having been interposed on behalf of the Plaintiff, it was sustained by the Court. - After the decision sustaining the Demurrer, the Defendant in pursuance of a previous agreement between Counsel, and with the leave of the Court, pleased in bar of the action, 1st Not Guilty. 2ndly That the Plaintiff was a negro slave the lawful property of the defendant: and as such, the Defendant gently laid his hands upon him & thereby had only restrained him as the Defendant had a right to do so. 3rdly That with respect to the wife and daughters of the Plaintiff, in the second and third courts of the Declaration, [struck: the] mentioned; the Defendant had as to them, only acted in the same manner, and in virtue of the same legal right. -
[printed excerpt inserted by Daniel]
"It is agreed that Dred Scott brought suit for his freedom in the Circuit Court of St. Louis county; that there was a verdict and judgment in his favor; that on [strikeout] a writ of error to the Supreme Court the judgment below was reversed and the same remanded to the Circuit Court, where it has been continued to await the decision of this case.
"FIELD
for Pl'ff.
"GARLAND
for Def't."
[in Daniel's hand]
[4] Issues having been joined upon the above pleas in bar the following statement [struck: of facts] comprising all the evidence in the cause was agreed upon and signed by the counsel of the respective parties, viz,
[printed excerpt inserted by Daniel]
"In the year 1834, the plaintiff was a negro slave belonging to Doctor Emerson, who was a surgeon in the army of the United States. In that year, 1834, said Dr. Emerson took the plaintiff from the State of Missouri to the military post at Rock Island in the State of Illinois, and held him there as a slave until the month of April or May, 1836. At the time last mentioned, said Dr. Emerson removed the plaintiff from said military post at Rock Island to the military post at Fort Snelling, situate on the west bank of the Mississippi river, in the territory known as Upper Louisiana, acquired by the United States of France, and situate north of the latitude of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north, and north of the State of Missouri. Said Dr. Emerson held the plaintiff in slavery at said Fort Snelling, from said last mentioned date until the year 1838.
"In the year 1836, the plaintiff and said Harriet at said Fort Snelling, with the consent of said Dr. Emerson, who then claimed to be their master and owner, intermarried, and took each other for husband and wife. Eliza and Lizzy, named in the third count of the plaintiff's declaration, are the fruit of that marriage. Eliza is about 14 years old, and was born on board the steamboat Gipsey, north of the north line of the State of Missouri, and upon the river Mississippi. Lizzy is about seven years old, and was born in the State of Missouri at the military post called Jefferson Barracks.
"In the year 1838, said Dr. Emerson removed the plaintiff and said Harriet and their said daughter Eliza, from said Fort Snelling to the State of Missouri, where they have ever since resided.
"Before the commencement of this suit, said Dr. Emerson sold and conveyed the plaintiff, said Harriet, Eliza and Lizzy, to the defendant as slaves, and the defendant has ever since claimed to hold them and each of them as slaves.
"At the times mentioned in the plaintiff's declaration the defendant, claiming to be owner as aforesaid, laid his hands upon said plaintiff, Harriet, Eliza and Lizzy, and imprisoned them, doing in this respect, however, no more than what he might lawfully do if they were of right his slaves at such times.
"Further proof may be given on the trial for either party.
"R. M. FIELD,
for Pl'ff.
"H. A. GARLAND,
for Def't.
"It is agreed that Dred Scott brought suit for his freedom in the Circuit Court of St. Louis county; that there was a verdict and judgment in his favor; that on [strikeout] a writ of error to the Supreme Court the judgment below was reversed and the same remanded to the Circuit Court, where it has been continued to await the decision of this case.
"FIELD
for Pl'ff.
"GARLAND
for Def't." \85
See More

People: Daniel, Peter Vivian, 1784-1860
Scott, Dred, 1809-1858

Historical Era: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860

Subjects: African American HistorySlaveryUS ConstitutionSlave LifeSupreme CourtLawJudiciaryNorthwest TerritoryFrontiers and ExplorationStatehoodGovernment and CivicsPrintingCivil RightsDred Scott

Sub Era: Age of Jackson

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources