U.S. Supreme Court
Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 19 How. 393 393 (1856)
Scott v. Sandford
60 U.S. (19 How.) 393
Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.
The question is simply this: can a negro whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as
slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the
Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and
immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen, one of which rights is the privilege of suing in a
court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution?
It will be observed that the plea applies to that class of persons only whose ancestors were negroes of
the African race, and imported into this country and sold and held as slaves. The only matter in issue
before the court, therefore, is, whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be
emancipated, or who are born of parents who had become free before their birth, are citizens of a
State in the sense in which the word "citizen" is used in the Constitution of the United States. And this
being the only matter in dispute on the pleadings, the court must be understood as speaking in this
opinion of that class only, that is, of those persons who are the descendants of Africans who were
imported into this country and sold as slaves.
The words "people of the United States" and "citizens" are synonymous terms, and mean the same
thing. They both describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the
sovereignty and who hold the power and conduct the Government through their representatives. They
are what we familiarly call the "sovereign people," and every citizen is one of this people, and a
constituent member of this sovereignty. The question before us is whether the class of persons
described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of
this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be
included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and
privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the
contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been
subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their
authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government
might choose to grant them.