Dred Scott was the name of an
African-American slave. He was taken by his master, an officer in the U.S.Army, from
the slave state of Missouri to the free state of Illinois and then to the free territory
of Wisconsin. He lived on the free soil for a long period of time. When the
Army ordered his master to go back to Missouri, he took Scott with him back to that slave
state, where his master died. In 1846, Scott was helped by Abolitionist lawyers to
sue for his freedom in court, claiming he should be free since he had lived on free soil
for a long time. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court, Roger B. Taney, was a
former slave owner from Maryland. In March of 1857, Scott lost the decision as seven
out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court declared no slave or descendant of a slave could
be a U.S. citizen, or ever had been a U.S. citizen. As a non-citizen, the court
stated, Scott had no rights and could not sue in a Federal court and must remain a
slave. At that time there were nearly 4 million slaves in America. The court's
ruling affected the status of every enslaved and free African-American in the United
States. The ruling served to turn back the clock concerning the rights of
African-Americans, ignoring the fact that Black men in five of the original states had
been full voting citizens dating back to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The Supreme Court also ruled that Congress
could not stop slavery in the newly emerging territories and declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820,
to be unconstitutional. The Missouri compromise prohibited slavery north of the
parallel in the Louisiana Purchase. The Court declared it violated the Fifth
Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits Congress from depriving persons of their
property without due process of law. Anti-slavery leaders in the North cited the
controversial Supreme Court decision as evidence that Southerners wanted to extend slavery
throughout the nation and ultimately rule the nation itself. Southerners approved
the Dred Scott decision believing Congress had no right to prohibit slavery in the
territories. Abraham Lincoln reacted with disgust to the ruling and was spurred into
political action, publicly speaking out against it.
Revised: July 18, 2013.