The Dred Scott Decision


Dred Scott was a slave that lived in a slave state that moved with his owner to a free state and subsequently sued to be released from slavery. Through several different trials, and reviews up to the Supreme Court, Dred Scott was refused his freedom. The decision had an effect on relations between the anti-slavery north and pro-slavery south, and was a contributing factor to the War Between the States.

Dred Scott was born in Virginia into slavery around 1800. He remained in Virginia until 1830 when his owners moved with him to Missouri. In 1832, Scott was sold to an Army Officer named John Emerson. While Emerson was in the Army, he was stationed in different locations, and took Scott with him over the next 12 years. During those years, Scott spent time as a slave in several anti-slavery states and territories.

In 1842, John Emerson left the Army and moved to Iowa. The next year, Emerson died and Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet upon a background check, became the property of Emerson’s widow. Subsequently, Mrs. Emerson would lease Scott out to others to perform odd jobs. One of the ways a slave could get out of slavery is to purchase their freedom from the owner. Scott attempted to purchase his freedom from Mrs. Emerson, but was turned down.

In 1846, Dred Scott first attempted to sue Mrs. Emerson for his freedom. Scott claimed that since he resided in non-slave territory, he should be granted his freedom. The court threw out his claim. In January 1850, the 2nd trial was heard and this time the jury awarded Scott, his wife and two children their freedom. However, Mrs. Emerson appealed this decision and in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the decision and declared that Scott and his family were to be slaves again.

In 1853, Dred Scott sued again, this time in Federal Court. This time, the defendant was John Sanford, who was Mrs. Emerson’s brother, and who gained control of the John Emerson’s estate. The case went to trial in 1854, and the Federal Court ruled that since the state of Missouri was the residence of Scott and Emerson, they would follow of rules of that state. And, since the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of Emerson, they would agree to follow that ruling. As a result of losing this case, Dred Scott filled an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court and the case was heard in the lands highest court.

On March 6, 1857, The United States Supreme Court issued the ruling that since Scott was a slave in Missouri, and was not a true citizen they could not rule of this case. And, since he is not a citizen, he is not covered by the U.S. Constitution. Because of this decision Scott was denied his freedom.

As a result of the decision, the rift between the northern states with an anti-slavery stance and the southern states which had a pro-slavery stance. The southern states felt that the courts had upheld their belief that slavery was acceptable. Meanwhile, the northern abolitionists were further outraged by the decision that slavery in free states was acceptable and were actively seeking ways to end slavery.

On May 26, 1857, a relative of Scott’s original owner purchased Scott’s freedom. Dred Scott and family settled in the St. Louis Missouri area. Unfortunately, Scott passed away only 18 months later.

The Dred Scott Decision was an important event in the history of the United States, which helped lead to the start of the Civil War. Eventually, after the north’s victory in the war, all slaves were given their freedom.