Mrs. Dred Scott

Mrs. Dred Scott

A Life on Slavery's Frontier

Book - 2009
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In telling the life of Harriet, Dred's wife and co-litigant in the case, this book provides a compensatory history to the generations of work that missed key sources only recently brought to light. Moreover, it gives insight into the reasons and ways that slaves used the courts to establish their freedom. --from publisher description
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, 2009
Characteristics: viii, 480 p., [6] p. of plates : ill., map, ports. ; 25 cm
ISBN: 9780195366563 (alk. paper)
Alternative Title: Misses Dred Scott


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Dec 24, 2010

Although I appreciate the author’s research on the history behind the famous Dred Scott Decision, I was disappointed by the book in some ways. I frequently found it hard to keep reading because many portions were quite dry and there was a preponderance of writing about the white people rather than the black.

Because Mrs. and Mr. Scott were both illiterate, and because there was no written record of their lives by white people, there are no documents that specifically express their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Despite the book’s title, readers never really get to know Mrs. Scott as an individual. The book is built around extensive research about where Mr. and Mrs. Scott lived at various times and therefore what the author supposed their life to be like at that time. The history was interesting to me because a great deal of it centered around my home state of Minnesota. I learned alot about the Native American history there when it was still a territory but I’m not sure non-Minnesotans would be quite as captivated.

The historically important Dred Scott Decision isn’t adequately discussed, in my opinion. Out of 324 pages, the lawsuit the Scotts filed to gain their freedom from servitude isn’t discussed until page 233. It remains unclear how active the Scotts were with their attorneys in terms of planning strategies or testimony over the eleven year history of the lawsuit. And lastly, there was an insufficient discussion of the Supreme Court proceedings. I was expecting to hear the arguments made on both sides and maybe some information on the justices’ discussions. Instead readers are simply given a chapter devoted to Justice Taney’s majority opinion mandating that the Scotts remain enslaved. I was hoping for more.


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