The Dred Scott Decision


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Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia around 1799. In 1834, a man named Dr. Emerson bought Dred Scott and they moved to Illinois, a non-slave (free) state. In 1836, they moved to Minnesota, also a non- slave state. There, Scott married another slave named Harriet. In 1838, the Emersons and the Scotts moved to Missouri, a slave state. In 1843, Dr. Emerson died, leaving his wife possession of the Scotts.

Dred Scott sued Mrs. Emerson. He claimed that he was no longer a slave because he had become free when he lived in a free state. The jury decided that Scott and his family should be free. The Emersons did not like the decision and appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852. That court said that Missouri does not have to follow the laws of another state. As a slave state, Missouri's laws meant that Scott and his family were not free.

Sanford moved to New York and left the Scotts in Missouri. Scott sued Sanford again in a federal court. Federal courts decide cases where the citizens live in different states. In 1854, the U.S. Court for the District of Missouri heard the case. Sanford won the case and Scott then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the country.

In 1857, Scott and his lawyers appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Scott v. Sanford the Court states that Scott should remain a slave, that as a slave he is not a citizen of the U.S. and thus not eligible to bring suit in a federal court, and that as a slave he is personal property and thus has never been free.

The court further declares unconstitutional the provision in the Missouri Compromise that permitted Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories. In fact, the compromise is already under assault as a coalition of political leaders—some slaveholders, o thers westerners who resent the federal government's ability to dictate the terms of statehood—claim that territorial residents should be able to determine on what terms they enter the union. The decision in Scott v. Sanford greatly alarms the antislavery movement and intensifies the growing division of opinion within the United State. The newly-formed Republican Party, which opposes the expansion of slavery, vigorously criticizes the decision and the court.

In 1857, Mrs. Emerson remarries. Since her new husband opposes slavery, the Scotts are given their freedom.