When you ask someone to name a Civil Rights leader, they will probably say either Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, but there was one way before the 1960ís. In fact, before the American Civil War there was Dred Scott.
Dred Scott was an African-American slave. His owner, Peter Blow, who was a U.S. Army officer, took him from one of the major slave states, Missouri, to the free state of Illinois. After a few years in Illinois, Dred Scott was taken by his owner to another free state. The state was Wisconsin, and this was where he lived for several years.
Dred Scott's Case
In 1846, Peter Blow was ordered to go back to Missouri, and he took Dred back with him. Dred Scott thought that he should be free because when he was in Missouri, he was in a free state. This would make him a free man! Dred decided to sue his owner and get the freedom he thought he deserved. He got help from anti-slavery lawyers called abolitionists. These people would help Dred try to sue his owner so he could gain his freedom. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The only problem for Dred Scott was that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was a former slave owner from Maryland. His name was Roger B. Taney.
Unfortunately, in March 1857, Dred Scott lost the court case. It was not a very close vote. Seven out of nine justices on the Supreme Court declared that no slave or anyone related to a slave could be a U.S. citizen. Because Dred was not considered a citizen of the U.S., the court said that he had no rights. Therefore he could not sue in federal court. He also had to continue being a slave.
At this time, there were about 4 million slaves in the United States. The courtís decision changed the lives of every free African-American and slave in the United States. The ruling seemed to take back some of the rights that African-Americans had. The Supreme Courtís decision ignored the fact that black men in the five original states had been citizens since the Declaration of Independence. This affected the lives of slaves because it meant that they could not sue their owners if they were in the same position that Dred was in. It also meant that slaves could be taken into states where slavery was illegal. Therefore, slavery was no longer illegal in any state.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the Congress could not stop slavery in the newly forming territories and said that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. The Missouri Compromise did not allow slavery north of the parallel 36 degrees-30 degrees in the Louisiana Purchase. The court said that the Missouri Compromise broke the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which stops Congress from taking peopleís property without due process of law. Since slaves were considered property, not people, owners should be allowed to take them to new territories.
Anti-slavery leaders in the North heard about the Supreme Courtís decision and thought that this meant the Southerners wanted to enlarge slavery throughout the nation. Southerners agreed with the Dred Scott decision, believing that Congress had no right to stop slavery in the territories. Abraham Lincoln was upset by the ruling and spoke out publicly against it so that all people could hear what Abraham Lincoln thought of the courtís ruling and how he felt about slavery.
Overall, the Dred Scott decision had an affect on widening the differences between the people in the North and South. This took the country closer to the start of the Civil War.
Clinton, Cathrine. Civil War. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
The History Place. The Dred Scott Decision <http: // www.historyplace.com/lincoln/dred.htm> Last Visited: February, 2002.
Boritt, Gabor S. The Dred Scott Decision. World Book Encyclopedia, 2001.