May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Native Americans

May 26, 1637: the Mystic [CT] massacre took place during the Pequot War, when English settlers under Captain John Mason and Narragansett and Mohegan allies set fire to a fortified Pequot village near the Mystic River. They shot any people who tried to escape the wooden palisade fortress and killed the entire village in retaliation for previous Pequot attacks.

The English colonists sold Pequot tribe members to plantations in the West Indies in exchange for African slaves, allowing the colonists to remove a resistant element from their midst. [2014 Indian Country Today article] (see February 25, 1642)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism


Dred Scott

May 26, 1857: slaves Dred and Harriet Scott appeared in the St. Louis Circuit Court and were formally freed; Judge Alexander Hamilton approved the papers. Dred Scott took a job as a porter at Barnum’s Hotel at Second and Walnut streets in St. Louis; he became a sort of celebrity there. The family lived off Carr Street in the city, where Harriet took in laundry, which Scott delivered when he was not working at the hotel. (see Scotts for expanded story)

May 26, 1956
Alabama shuts down NAACP

May 26, 1956: Alabama authorities tried to shut down the NAACP, obtaining an order from Circuit Judge Walter B. Jones that prohibited the organization from operating in the state. After the NAACP refused to turn over membership lists, Jones found the organization in contempt and fined it $100,000. He had suggested to Alabama Attorney General John Patterson that the state prosecute the NAACP for failing to register as an out-of-state corporation. The U.S. Supreme Court later threw out the fine and ruled in the NAACP’s favor [2015 Clarion Ledger article] (see June 1, 1964)

Tallahassee bus boycott begins

May 26, 1956: a bus boycott began in Tallahassee, Fla., after Florida A&M students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson refused to give up their seats to white passengers. The next night, a cross was burned outside the home of Jakes and Patterson. On Jan. 3, 1957, a federal judge ruled bus segregation laws unconstitutional. Four days later, Tallahassee’s city commission repealed its segregation clause. [2015 Clarion Ledger article]  (see June 5)

George Whitmore, Jr.

May 26, 1965: Justice Vincent D. Damiani of Kings County Supreme Court granted a motion by Whitmore’s attorney, Stanley J Reiben,  requiring DA Aaron Koota to bring Whitmore to trial for the Minnie Edmonds murder before retrying him for the lesser crime against Borrero. Damiani wrote,  “To permit the defendant to be tried again on the lesser charge of attempted rape before his trial on the more serious indictment for murder will result in further publicity and substantially increase the difficulty in selecting an impartial jury in the murder case.” (see Whitmore for expanded story)

Hate crime bill fails again

May 26, 2005: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act reintroduced. It failed to advance in committee. (BH, see June 13; LGBTQ, see Sept 6;  Byrd and Shepard, see March 30, 2007)


May 26, 2015: dozens of people marched through the streets of downtown Cleveland demanding changes to the city’s criminal justice system, With chants of “We want justice, we want it now,” and “We can’t wait,” the marchers said they were tired of waiting for authorities to make changes on their own. They delivered letters to prosecutors and the mayor listing their demands. (see 137 for expanded story)

Laquan McDonald

May 26, 2015: Journalist Brandon Smith filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago Police Department asking for videos from the night Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald. (B & S, see June 8; McDonald, see Aug 4)

Murders of Civil Rights Workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner

May 26, 2016: retired Circuit Judge Marcus D. Gordon died. Gordon had sentenced Edgar Ray Killen to life in prison in 2005 after a mixed-race jury convicted the reputed former Ku Klux Klan leader of manslaughter in the 1964 abduction and murders of Civil Rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Neshoba County. Gordon had retired on March 4, 2016, from the Eighth District Circuit Court. (BH, see June 3;  see Murders for expanded chronology)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Emma Goldman

May 26, 1906: the New York Times published an article detailing that Emma Goldman and Alex Berkman were seen holding hands in a Chicago public park while Chicago police searched for them. (see Goldman for expanded story)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

US Labor History

Actors’ Equity Assn

May 26 Peace Love Activism

May 26, 1913: 112 actors founded the Actors’ Equity Assn. at a meeting in New York City’s Pabst Grand Circle Hotel. Producer George M. Cohan responded: “I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors’ union.” Later a sign will appear in Times Square reading: “Elevator operator wanted. George M. Cohan need not apply” [AEA site] (see June 11)

Auto-Lite plant strike, day 4

May 26, 1934 (Saturday): the violence began to die down somewhat. Troopers began arresting hundreds of people, most of whom paid a small bond and won release later the same day. Large crowds continued to gather in front of the Auto-Lite plant and hurl missiles at the troops, but the National Guard was able to maintain order during daylight hours without resorting to large-scale gas bombing. During the day, strike leader Ted Selander was arrested by the National Guard and held incommunicado. Despite pleas, Taft refused to use his influence to have Selander freed or his whereabouts revealed. With two of the AWP’s three local leaders in jail, the AWP was unable to mobilize as many picketers as before. Although a crowd of 5,000 gathered in the early evening, the National Guard was able to disperse the mob after heavily gassing the six-block neighborhood. [Bay Dispatch article] (see Toledo for expanded chronology)

Battle of the Overpass

May 26, 1937: Ford Motor Co. security guards attacked union organizers and supporters attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, Mich., in an event that was to become known as the “Battle of the Overpass.” The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the attack, but some survived—and inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography. [2013 Smithsonian article] (see May 30)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism


May 26 Peace Love Art Activism
The 2nd anniversary of Georgian independence. 26 May 1919.

May 26, 1918: Georgia independent. (see May 28)

May 26, 1966: Guyana independent from United Kingdom. [Guyana dot org article] (see IDays for expanded list for the decade)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Immigration History

Immigration Act of 1924

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26, 1924: Congress passed the eugenics-inspired Immigration Act of 1924, which completely prohibited immigration from Asia. Designed to limit all immigration to the US, the act was particularly restrictive for Eastern and Southern Europeans and Asians. Upon signing the act into law, President Calvin Coolidge remarked, “America must remain American.”

The Act of 1924 eliminated immigration from Japan, violating the so-called “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which previously protected Japanese immigration.

The law tightened the national origins quota system, meant to restrict the number of immigrants from a particular country to a percentage of the foreign-born citizens from that country already residing in the United States. The previous quota was based on population data from the 1910 census, but the 1924 Act based the quota on the 1890 census, which effectively lowered the quota numbers for non-white countries. The 1924 system also considered the national origins of the entire American population, including natural-born citizens, which increased the number of visas available to people from the British Isles and Western Europe. Finally, the 1924 Act excluded any person ineligible for citizenship, formalizing the bar on immigration from Asia based on existing laws that prohibited Asians from becoming naturalized citizens.

The act was supported by federally-funded eugenicists who argued that “social inadequates” were polluting the American gene pool and draining taxpayer resources. Its quotas remained in place until 1965. [US Office of the Historian article] (see January 19, 1930)

President Obama’s order declined

May 26, 2015: the US Supreme Court declined to review a Texas judge’s injunction that kept the President Obama’s sweeping immigration plan from taking effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen had issued a preliminary injunction on Feb. 16 that halted Obama’s executive action, which could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. More than two dozen states sought the injunction, arguing that Obama’s executive action was unconstitutional. (see May 27)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Red Scare

Dies Committee

May 26, 1938: The Dies Committee—later known as the House Un-American Activities Committee—is formed to investigate subversive activities within the United States. The committee, headed by Texas Democrat Martin Dies, initially targets Nazi sympathizers but eventually comes to focus almost entirely on the Communist threat. [National Archives article]  (see April 27, 1942)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Calvin Graham

May 26, 1943: Graham requested 36 days’ pay he considered to be due him at the time of his release from the Navy. (see Graham for expanded story)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Free Speech

Burstyn v. Wilson

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26, 1952: the Supreme Court held that movies were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. The Catholic Church had objected to the Italian film, The Miracle (Il Miracolo), when it opened at the Paris Theater in New York City in 1950. The Court’s decision overruled Mutual v. Ohio Industrial Commission, decided on February 23, 1915, which had held that movies are items of commerce and not forms of expression protected by the First Amendment. The Miracle was directed by the famed Italian director Roberto Rossellini and is actually one part of a two-part film, L’Amore (1948), which is the more widely used title. The story was written by Federico Fellini, who also has a bit part in the movie, and who went on to became a famous director himself (especially the film, 8 1/2).

In addition to providing First Amendment protection for movies, the Burstyn decision also struck a blow for freedom of expression about religion. The majority opinion specifically referred to the attempt to censor The Miracle because of its alleged “sacrilege,” but for all practical purposes that also covered “blasphemy.” [Cornell law article] (see March 7, 1953)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26 Music et al

Stranger on a Strange Shore

May 26 – June 1, 1962: “Stranger on a Strange Shore” by Acker Bilk #1 Billboard Hot 100. Bilk became the first Briton ever to have reached the top of the American charts in the rock and roll era. Bilk joined other easy-listening instrumentalists and orchestra leaders like Bert Kaempfert, Percy Faith and Henry Mancini who thrived on the U.S. side of the Atlantic while American rock and blues was increasingly popular on the UK side.

Montreal Bed-In

May 26 – June 2, 1969: Yoko Ono and John Lennon Montreal Bed-In. Denounced violence (see June 1)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

World Trade Center

George H. Willig

May 26, 1977:  using equipment he designed and built himself and tested in secret at night, George H. Willig, a 27-year-old toymaker and mountain climber from Queens, scaled the South Tower of the World Trade Center to the delight of thousand of pedestrians who watched his three-and-a-half-hour effort. He was arrested by the Port Authority police and given three summonses and later was served with a $250,000 suit by New York City. [images] (see May 27)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Crime and Punishment

Bail Reform Act

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26, 1987: the 1984 federal Bail Reform Act embodied the principle of preventive detention by allowing judges to deny bail to defendants they believed to be “dangerous” to the community. The law significantly reversed the historic 1966 Bail Reform Act (signed into law on June 22, 1966), which created a presumption of release for all defendants. In United States v. Salerno, decided on this day, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 1984 law. In the 1980s, states followed the federal lead and passed similar preventive detention laws that allowed judges to deny bail to “dangerous” offenders. [Oyez article] (see August 6, 1988)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism



May 26, 1994: President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) into law. FACE protects reproductive health service facilities, their staff and patients from violent threats, assault, vandalism, and blockade. [NY Times article] (see June 30, 1994)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Oklahoma City Explosion

May 26, 2004: Terry Nichols convicted by an Oklahoma state court on murder charges stemming from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. (see June 11)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism


May 26, 2004: Vermont became the ninth state to legalize medical marijuana when Governor James Douglas allowed “Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons with Severe Illness”  (41 KB) to pass into law unsigned. “The law removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients diagnosed with a ‘debilitating medical condition…’ The law establishes a mandatory, confidential state-run registry that issues identification cards to qualifying patients.” (see Nov 2) or see CC for expanded chronology)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism


May 26, 2009: The California Supreme Court ruled that, notwithstanding Prop 8, marriages between same-sex couples that occurred in the four months between June and November remain valid. (California, see August 4, 2010; LGBTQ, see May 31)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Stop and Frisk Policy

May 26, 2011: The NYCLU filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD and NYC for stop-and-frisk of passengers in livery cars. (see May 31)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism



May 26, 2015: Nevada abolished life without parole sentences for children. The Nevada legislature unanimously passed AB 267 and Governor Brian Sandoval signed it. The legislation was supported by a bipartisan coalition that includes victims’ families, formerly incarcerated youth, and prosecutors. The new law retroactively bars the imposition of a life without parole sentence on any person who was under eighteen at the time of the crime. It provides for an opportunity for parole after serving fifteen or twenty years depending on the crime, and it required judges to consider the differences between juvenile and adult offenders when determining an appropriate sentence for a child. The Nevada law continued a nationwide trend. Vermont, Hawaii, West Virginia, Delaware, Wyoming, and Texas also recently eliminated death-in-prison sentences for children.

Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

May 26, 2015: the Connecticut Supreme Court, in Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction, said it would retroactively apply the protocols outlined in Riley and in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2012 Miller v. Alabama  The result is that defendants sentenced years—or decades—ago can now return to court and claim that factors relating to their youth were not given appropriate mitigating weight when they were originally sentenced. In other words, they can assert that their sentences were imposed in violation of the Constitution, and that they should be entitled to a new sentencing proceeding to remedy this violation. [Marshall Project article] (see May 27)

May 26 Peace Love Art Activism

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Spoiler alert: the government will finally free the slaves Dred and Harriet Scott after decades of enslavement.  That decision would never compensate them or their children for those decades.

Northwest Ordinance

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

August 7, 1789: President George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance The primary effect of the ordinance was the creation of the Northwest Territory as the first organized territory of the US out of the region south of the Great Lakes, north and west of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. One of its provisions was the prohibition of slavery in the territory which had the practical effect of establishing the Ohio River as the boundary between free and slave territory in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. This division helped set the stage for national competition over admitting free and slave states, the basis of a critical question in American politics in the 19th century until the Civil War.

Around 1795: Dred Scott born a slave in Virginia.  Scott’s owner, Peter Blow, moved to Alabama, but after his farm failed, move to Missouri around 1830. Blow brought his slaves, including Dred Scott.

Peter Blow died in 1832 and in 1833 US Army Surgeon Dr John Emerson purchased Scott and brought with him to Fort Armstrong in Illinois–admitted as a state on December 3, 1818.

In May 1836, the Army assigned Emerson assigned to Fort Snelling in the Wisconsin territory (a free territory as per the Missouri Compromise [1820]). Emerson took Scott.

Two weeks before Scott arrived at Fort Snelling, Congress had passed the Wisconsin Enabling Act, effectively making slavery illegal in the Wisconsin territory under three distinct statutes:

1) the act mandated that the laws of Michigan, which was a free state, govern the new territory 

2) the act made the Northwest Ordinance applicable in the territory, which also prohibited slavery,

3) the act reaffirmed and supplemented the Missouri Compromise.

Thus, by taking Scott as a slave to this territory and keeping him there for two and a half years, Emerson broke the law in those three  ways.

These facts provided Scott with a legitimate basis on which to claim his freedom in court, although Scott did not act on this opportunity.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

May 1836 – April 1838

Sometime during this period, Dred Scott married Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by Major Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian Agent stationed near Fort Snelling.  Taliaferro was also a justice of the peace, and in that capacity he performed a formal wedding ceremony for his slave and her new husband.

This event was extraordinary and significant. While it not give Dred Scott a new claim to freedom, the formal marriage provided another factual basis for his claim that he became free while he lived at Fort Snelling. Under the laws of the Southern states, a slave could never be legally married. Slave couples, of course, “married” each other throughout the South. Often a master performed a ceremony for his slaves. Sometimes white clergymen or slave preachers consecrated slave unions. Some slaves simply announced they were married or went to their masters to ask permission to live as a couple. Often slave communities developed their own ceremonies exchanging vows such as “until death or master do part.” Slaves understood the precarious nature of their personal lives.

From the Chicago-Kent Law Review

No Southern state allowed slaves to be married under the eyes of the law for three important reasons.

First, as law students learn in family law, a marriage is a contract between three parties—the two spouses and the state. Slaves could never have a legal marriage because American slaves could not be parties to contracts.  No American slave state allowed slaves to make contracts or in any other way perform legally binding acts, including marriages.

Second, a legal recognition of slave marriages would have undermined the property interest of masters. Such marriages might have limited the right of the master to sell one of the partners.

Finally, recognition of slave marriages might have led slaves to claim other rights. The legal right to marry implies the right to raise your own children, and under common law a husband or wife cannot be compelled to testify against his or her spouse in a prosecution. A husband at common law had a duty to protect is wife from assaults from others, but slaves could never protect their wives from the assaults of their masters or overseers.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

October 1837

The Army transferred Dr Emerson to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Because the trip down the Mississippi at that time of year was dangerous, Emerson left Dred and Harriet Scott at Fort Snelling, Wisconsin Territory where he rented them to other people. This fact could have significantly buttressed their subsequent claims to freedom. By leaving the Scotts at Fort Snelling and hiring them out at a profit, Emerson was in fact bringing the system of slavery itself into the Wisconsin Territory, a free territory. If a master worked a slave or hired a slave out, then the institution of slavery itself would have been in a free territory and the slave might legitimately claim their freedom.

While at the military post, Emerson might have claimed an exemption, but once he left and hired out the Scotts  it was an unequivocal violation of the Missouri Compromise, the Northwest Ordinance, and the Wisconsin Enabling Act.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

November 1837

The Army sent Dr. Emerson to Fort Jesup in Louisiana. The Scotts remained in Wisconsin Territory.

On February 6, 1838, Dr Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford and sent for the Scotts.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

April 1838

The Scotts joined Dr & Mrs Emerson in Louisiana. When the Scotts arrived in Louisiana they might have sued for their freedom in that state. For more than twenty years Louisiana courts had upheld the freedom claims of slaves who had lived in free jurisdictions. Had the Scotts claimed their freedom in Louisiana in 1838, theirs would have been an open-and-shut case. But, once again, they did not seek their freedom. It is likely that they simply had no knowledge that the Louisiana courts routinely freed slaves who had lived in free jurisdictions.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

October 1838

The Army transferred Dr Emerson back to Ft Snelling (Wisconsin). During the trip on a Mississippi River steamboat that was north of the state of Missouri—that is, in territory made free by the Missouri Compromise—Harriet Scott gave birth to her first child, who she named Eliza after Mrs. Emerson. Thus, Eliza Scott was born on a boat in the Mississippi River, surrounded on one side by the free state of Illinois and on the other side by the free territory of Wisconsin. Under both state and federal law Eliza was born “free.”

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

May 1840

The Army sent Dr. Emerson to Florida to serve in the Seminole War. On his way there he left his wife and the Scotts in St. Louis.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

August 1842

The Army discharged Emerson, and he returned to St. Louis. He later moved to Iowa, a free territory, but left the Scott family in St. Louis where Dred and Harriet were hired out to various people.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

December 1843

The forty-year-old Dr John Emerson died suddenly. His widow, Irene, inherited his estate. For the next three years, the Scotts worked as hired slaves with the rent going to Irene Emerson.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed


In February, 1846, Dred Scott tried to purchase freedom for himself and his family, but Irene Emerson refused to sell Scott to himself.

April 6, 1846: Scott filed suit for his freedom and that of his wife and two children. Sometime after his return to St. Louis, Scott had renewed contact with the sons of Peter Blow, his former master. The  Blows began to provide financial aid for Scott’s litigation.

Scott’s lawyers assumed his case was an easy one to win. In 1824, in Winny v. Whitesides, the Missouri Supreme Court freed a slave who had been taken to Illinois.  In the next thirteen years the Missouri court heard another ten cases on this issue, always deciding that slaves gained their freedom by either working in a free jurisdiction or living there long enough to be considered a resident.

During this period Missouri was one of the most liberal Southern states on this question. It was not, however, the only slave state to reach this result. Courts in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi also upheld the freedom of slaves who had lived in a free state or territory.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

June 30, 1847

In a trial before the St. Louis Circuit Court Scott lost because of a technicality—he was suing Irene Emerson for his freedom but he had no witness who could prove she now owned him.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

March 17, 1848

Before the next trial took place, Irene Emerson had the sheriff of St. Louis County take charge of the Scott family. He was responsible for their hiring out, and maintained the wages until such a time as the outcome of the freedom suit was determined (custody of the Scott family would remain with the St. Louis County sheriff until March 18, 1857).

In late 1849 or early 1850, Irene Emerson left Missouri for Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1850 she married Dr. Calvin C. Chaffee, a Springfield physician with antislavery leanings who later became a Republican congressman. Although no longer in Missouri, Irene Emerson remained the defendant in Dred Scott’s freedom suit before the Missouri state courts. Her brother, a prosperous New York merchant with strong personal and professional ties to St. Louis, continued to act on her behalf in defending the case and would become the named defendant in the federal case.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

January 12, 1850

The judge in the St. Louis Circuit Court charged the jury that Scott’s residence in free jurisdictions would destroy his status as a slave, and if the jurors determined he had in fact lived in a free state or territory, they should find him free. The jury sided with Scott and his family.

The jury of twelve white men in Missouri (the only people eligible to be on a jury) concluded that Scott’s residence in a free state and a free territory had made him free. This result was consistent with Missouri precedents dating from 1824. Irene Emerson, reluctant to lose her four slaves, appealed this decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

March 22, 1852

In Scott v. Emerson, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the lower court and declared that Scott was still a slave. The decision was political. The court decided the case not on the basis of legal precedent, but because of popular prejudice. Chief Justice William Scott stated:

 Times are not now as they were when the former decisions on this subject were made. Since then not only individuals but States have been possessed with a dark and fell spirit in relation to slavery, whose gratification is sought in the pursuit of measures, whose inevitable consequence must be the overthrow and destruction of our government. Under such circumstances it does not behoove the State of Missouri to show the least countenance to any measure which might gratify this spirit. She is willing to assume her full responsibility for the existence of slavery within her limits, nor does she seek to share or divide it with others.

Thus, Chief Justice Scott overturned twenty-eight years of Missouri precedents.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed


Scott’s fourth lawyer, Vermont-born Roswell Field, took over the case.  Field conceived a rather brilliant strategy:  to bring the case into federal court under diversity jurisdiction. Article III of the United States Constitution allows citizens of one state to sue citizens of another state in federal court. Field argued that Scott, as a free person, was a “citizen” of Missouri and thus entitled to sue John Sanford, a citizen of New York, in federal court.

Field’s position assumed two points that were as yet unproved: first, that Scott was indeed free, and second, that if free, he was also a citizen of Missouri.

Although a citizen of New York, John Sanford continued to exert control over the Scotts. He also continued  to defend the case, because the Scott family constituted a valuable asset. Since early in the litigation, Scott had been in the immediate custody of the sheriff of St. Louis County. The sheriff had been renting Scott and his family out, collecting the rent, and holding the money in escrow until the case was finally settled. By this time a tidy sum of money had accumulated. The winner of the case—either Scott or his owner—would get this money once the case was finally settled.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed


In May 1854 , Federal Judge Robert William Wells told the jury that Scott’s status was to be determined by Missouri law. Since the Missouri Supreme Court had already decided that Scott was a slave, the federal jury upheld his status as a slave.

If an Illinois court had previously declared Scott free, then the result would have been different. Judge Wells might then have held that, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, that Missouri was obligated to recognize the judicial proceedings that had emancipated Scott. But, no such proceeding had in fact ever taken place in Illinois or in the Wisconsin Territory. Thus, Scott and his family remained slaves.

The next stop in Dred Scott’s legal odyssey was the United States Supreme Court. An appeal would be more expensive than the Blows, by now Scott’s main financial patrons, could afford. Moreover, this was not a case that Scott’s lawyer, Rosewell Field,  was able to finance or even argue. However, Montgomery Blair, a Washington lawyer well connected to Missouri politics, agreed to take the case for free.

In December 1854 , Scott appealed to the Supreme Court alleging that Judge Wells had made an error in charging the jury that Dred Scott was not entitled to his freedom. The appeal reached Washington too late for the 1854 term, so the Supreme Court held the case over for the December 1855 term and finally heard arguments in February 1856.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed


In May 1856, the Supreme Court postponed a decision and scheduled reargument for the following term.

In December 1856, the Court heard arguments and also asked questions about the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise. It was an election year and perhaps for political reasons, the Court declined to render a decision in the spring of 1857.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed


Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

February, 1857 : Irene Emerson’s abolitionist second husband, Dr. Calvin Chaffee, a Massachusetts congressman, found out his wife owned the most famous slave in America. Unable to intervene in the case at that point, Chaffee suffered “disparaging commentary” in newspapers nationwide and on the floor of Congress because of the seeming hypocrisy of his ardent abolitionist stance while being a slave owner. Chaffee immediately transferred ownership of the Scott family to Taylor Blow in St. Louis; Missouri law only allowed a citizen of the state to emancipate a slave there. Irene Emerson Chaffee agreed to this ownership transfer on the condition that she receive the wages the Scott family earned over the last seven years. The wages amounted to about $750. There is speculation that, in 1857, Dred and Harriet Scott were worth about $350 each on the slave market. Had Irene Emerson Chaffee sold them, her return may have been less than the total of their wages earned.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Supreme Court Keeps Scotts Slaves

March 6, 1857 : Chief Justice Taney delivered the majority opinion of the Court.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

It held that Scott was not a “citizen of a state” and therefore was unable to bring suit in federal court. According to Taney, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks 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.”

If the Court were to grant Scott’s petition, It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

As far as Scott’s previous residence in both a free state and a free territory, Justice Taney deferred to the Missouri State court’s: “…we are satisfied, upon a careful examination of all the cases decided in the State courts of Missouri referred to, that it is now firmly settled by the decisions of the highest court in the State, that Scott and his family upon their return were not free, but were, by the laws of Missouri, the property of the defendant; and that the Circuit Court of the United States had no jurisdiction, when, by the laws of the State, the plaintiff was a slave, and not a citizen.”

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

On May 26, 1857, Dred and Harriet Scott appeared in the St. Louis Circuit Court and were formally freed; Judge Alexander Hamilton approved the papers. Dred Scott took a job as a porter at Barnum’s Hotel at Second and Walnut streets in St. Louis; he became a sort of celebrity there. The family lived off Carr Street in the city, where Harriet took in laundry, which Scott delivered when he was not working at the hotel.

June 16, 1858 : with the recent Dred Scott Supreme Court decision in mind, and accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as that state’s United States senator, Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House divided” speech. Part of his speech included:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Dred Scott dies

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Scott did not live to enjoy his freedom very long,  On September 17, 1858  he died of  tuberculosis. He had been free less than two years.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

Harriet Scott

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed

June 17, 1876: Harriet Scott died at the home of her daughter Lizzie and son-in-law’s Wilson Madison. She was buried June 20, 1876, in Section C of Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis County.

Slaves Dred Harriet Scott Freed