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The Dred Scott Decision



            "Slavery is founded on the selfishness of man's nature--opposition to it on his love of justice. These principles are in eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow (Abraham Lincoln).” [1]

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Dred Scott was born in 1795 in Southampton County, Virginia.  During the first years of his life he was a slave owned by Captain Peter Blow.  Scott was then forced to relocate with Captain Blow in 1827 to St. Louis, Missouri.  Four years later in 1831 Captain Blow passed away.  Elizabeth Blow, who was the daughter of Captain Blow, took over ownership of Scott.  In 1833, Scott was then bought by a surgeon who worked for the United States Army and his name was John Emerson.  While with Emerson, Scott spent five years on free soil.  Three of those years were in Illinois and two of them in Wisconsin.  Emerson bought a female slave named Harriet in 1836.  Dred Scott ended up marrying her.

            Trying to gain freedom, Dred Scott challenged the Missouri Court system in 1846.  Scott believed, “he had become free because of his stay in a free state and a free territory” [2] .  Scott fought for his freedom and won it in a Trial Court but the Supreme Court of Missouri overruled the decision in 1852.  In 1857, John F. A. Sanford (Sanford's name is misspelled Sandford in the official report of the case) was sued by Dred Scott in a case that was named, “Dred Scott V. Sandford, 19 Howard 33”. 

            “The case involved three leading issues, 1. Whether Scott was a citizen of the state of Missouri and thus entitled to sue in the federal courts;  2. Whether his temporary stay on free soil had given him a title to freedom that was still valid upon his return to the slave state of Missouri; and  3. The constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, whose prohibition of slavery applied to Wisconsin territory” [3] .  In the end the court ruled that since Scott was not a citizen of the U.S. or Missouri he was not given the right to sue in the Federal Court.  According to Richard Morris, Scott claimed he was free under the Missouri Compromise, but in Missouri the compromise was considered unconstitutional.

            While in Congress Chief Justice Roger B. Taney stated that, “Congress lacked the power to ban slavery in the territories” [4] . Northerners were irate by the statement because so many people viewed the Missouri Compromise as an easy alternative for neatly arranging the settlement of the West.

            Even though Dred Scott passed away in 1857 the freedom battle was far from over.  In 1858, Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln decided to take a stand against the decision that was made by the Supreme Court.  Finally, in 1868, Congress ratified the 14th amendment that stated, “That all person's born in the nation are citizens of the United Sates and of the state in which they live” [5] .


 Kutler, Stanley I. Dictionary of American History. Scribner's: (New York 2003).

 Malone, Dumas. Dictionary of American Biography. Scribner's: (New York 1961).

 Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History. Harper and Brother's:   (New York 1953).

 The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations.  Columbia University Press, (1993), “Microsoft Bookshelf '95”, CD-ROM. Micro


[1] The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations.  Columbia University Press, 1993, “Microsoft Bookshelf '95”, CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1995.

[2] Kutler, Stanley I. Dictionary of American History. New York: Scribner's, 2003.

[3] Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History. New York: Harper and Brother's: 1953.

[4] Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History. New York: Harper and Brother's: 1953.

[5] Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History. New York: Harper and Brother's: 1953.

Researched and Written by:
Steven P. Lazarevic
HIST 2240: Modern World
October 7, 2016

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