Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling, what citizenship did slaves hold?

Dred Scott v. Sandford was the infamous case where the US supreme court ruled that slaves and their descendants whether they were slaves or free were not US citizens.

Under this theory what if any citizenship did slaves and their descendants hold? They were effectively stateless persons to use a modern term?

I suspect that the theory was that, as far as the U.S. was concerned, they had no citizenship: they were just chattels to be be owned.

A slave would have been the property of his or her owner and would have had no more citizenship rights than any other piece of property.

An interesting question would be what the legal status a free black person was. Prior to Dred Scott, free blacks, while rare, were generally considered to be the same as any other citizen. Any restrictions on their legal status would have been defined by law and absent such legal restrictions they were presumed to be citizens.

But then Taney ruled that a black person, free or not, could never be a citizen and that no state could give a black person any rights of citizenship. This left free black in a legal limbo.

The closest comparable group in American law would probably be the Indians. Many Indians were held to be residents in the United States but not citizens of the United States. But there were significant differences: Non-citizen Indians generally were considered to be members of an Indian nation and derived some legal status from that. And it was always possible for individual Indians to become naturalized as American citizens (a principle recognized by Taney himself). Free blacks in the post-Dred Scott era had neither any collective legal status nor was there any path towards citizenship open to them.

If the events following Dred Scott hadn’t made it a moot issue, I would expect there would have been more rulings to answer these questions and clarify the status of free blacks in the American legal system.

Presumably, the same citizenship as your car or sofa. None.

Slaves were property. From Wikipedia:

So there you go - the only right they had - or rather, their owners had - was that they were not subject to unreasonable search or seizure without due process.

To be more precise, Taney ruled that no state could give a black person any right of citizenship which would affect their status under federal law in any way. Most (if not all) states allowed free black persons to own property, enter contracts, and sue and be sued, and a few states even granted black adult males the power of suffrage. Taney did not seek to overturn these laws.

But he held that whatever a state might do, it could not make a black person a citizen in any manner in which a federal court could recognize. This contradicted at least two clauses of the United States Constitution, but Taney was satisfied.

The fact that slaves were non-citizens was not controversial in 1857. As others have said, they were property.

The fact that free blacks were non-US-citizens was controversial, or at least questionable, and “stateless persons” (under federal law) would be a good description of the resulting legal limbo. The concept, however, was less troublesome in 1857 than today. Nowadays we think of non-citizens as people who may not have a right to live in a particular country, and who may be deported. This was not so in 1857, when there were no immigration restrictions and non-citizens could happily live out their lives in the US. Taney no doubt lost no sleep over this problem.

Owners occasionally brought their slaves overseas. What documentation was needed? Were passports in existence then?

Passports in their present form are an odious legacy of WWI. Nations at that time dud not mind people crossing frontiers, ut was goods that worried them.

And this is why you don’t post at 4am DOH!

My question was really about former slaves, freed slaves, and descendents of slaves losing their citizenship with this ruling. The interesting thing to me is it seemed like every state had laws about how slave status would pass to descendents and most didn’t cover ALL descendents.

So it seems like with this ruling a whole lot of people who considered themselves citizens were basically disenfranchised overnight. I was curious what would have been the court’s legal reasoning for their status.

Not disenfranchised, no. No voting privileges were affected by Scott v. Sandford. Free black adult males could vote in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in 1857, and in New York if they owned property worth $200. This remained true after the ruling.

Free black people did lose their presumed federal citizenship. At the risk of making light of an odious ruling, for the average person in 1857, this wasn’t that big of a deal. The federal government did little and the average individual seldom crossed paths with it.

See for yourself. Be forewarned however that many of the “statements of fact” in Taney’s opinion are completely false.

And just to clarify Dred Scott. The decision set up two citizenships - a state and a federal citizenship. Part of Taney’s ruling was that state citizenship did not obligate the Feds to give the same person US citizenship so that if New York for example decides to give all free blacks that was fine but that did not automatically make them US citizens. That is the reason that the 14th Amendment specifies that you are a citizen of the US but only a resident of a state.

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

That’s the tricky part. While residency implies state citizenship by the 14th Amendment, SCOTUS also classifies non-citizens as residents for purposes of Congressional representation, equal protection, social services etc. I mean when was the last time anyone claimed citizenship of a state rather than mere residency (except some sort of tax protest argument) although I guess technically when you vote in state elections it is as a state citizen and not a resident.