|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 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 (anti-slavery)
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
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
36°30´ 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.
Overall, the Dred Scott decision had the effect of widening
the political and social gap between North and South and took the nation closer to the
brink of Civil War.