Dred Scott

Dred Scott was born into slavery in 1799 in Virginia. In 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise Act, which prohibited the holding of slaves in certain areas of the Louisiana Purchase. Scott moved with his owners to Missouri, where he was sold to John Emerson. Scott traveled with Emerson to several locations where slavery was prohibited, including Fort Snelling in the future state of Minnesota. While Scott was at Fort Snelling, he met and married his wife, Harriet, and they had two children.

Eventually Emerson took Scott and his family back to Missouri. After Emerson’s death, Scott and his family attempted to gain their freedom in court by arguing that they were entitled to their freedom when they traveled to territories that prohibited slavery.

In an infamous decision by Chief Justice Roger Taney, Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), the Supreme Court ruled that a “free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, [was] not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States,” and therefore could not bring a lawsuit in federal court. The Court went on to hold that even if the federal courts had jurisdiction over the dispute, it was unconstitutional for Congress to prohibit the ownership of slaves in particular states. The Court invalidated the anti-slavery provision of the Missouri Compromise insofar as this law purported to deny a slave owner his or her property rights solely on account of his or her movement to a different state.

Dred Scott is regarded as a precipitating cause of the Civil War and perhaps the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and effectively nullified Dred Scott.

Dred Scott

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