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Dred Scott decision
March 6, 1857 Supreme Court hands down the ruling in the Dred Scott case.
  Roger B. Taney
  Causes of the Civil War

The Dred Scott Decision

Throughout his life, Dred Scott, a slave born in Virginia in 1799 (although his date of birth is frequently given as 1800) had moved in and out of "free states" with various masters, living in Illinois and Wisconsin for extended periods of time. While living in Missouri, Scott decided to sue his current master for his freedom, based on the amount of time he spent living in free states.

The first case was dismissed but the judge permitted Scott to refile. The second trial went to jury and was adjudicated in favor of Dred Scott. Irene Emerson, wife of his master, did not want to lose her property and appealed the lower court ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. The state supreme court ruled that Scott is still property and rightfully belongs to Mrs. Emerson.

In the meantime, Mrs. Emerson's brother, John Sanford took over the responsibility of the Emerson estate. It was a clever move by abolitionist lawyers because Sanford was a resident of New York. Scott can only file suit in a federal court, which he does and loses. The federal case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

Incoming President James Buchanan enters the scene, telling Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney that he wants a definitive ruling on the role of the Senate in determining the fate of slavery. Buchanan lobbies other justices as well. Two days after his inauguration, Buchanan gets the ruling he wants and quite a bit more. Scott, the court rules, is a slave and as property has no standing to sue. The time he spent in so-called free states is immaterial.

Additionally, the court ruled that Congress had no say in determining the right of states to be a free-state or slave-state, dramatically restricting Congressional powers and overturning the Missouri Compromise (Compromise of 1820)

Links appearing on this page:

James Buchanan
Missouri Compromise (Compromise of 1820)
Roger Taney

Dred Scott decision was last changed on - February 19, 2011
Dred Scott decision was added in 2005

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