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The Dred Scott Decision was one of the many arguments that led to the Civil War. Dred Scott was not an ordinary black slave who wanted freedom. He was extraordinary! He fought long and hard for his freedom, and would not be denied his right to live a free life. This is the story of Dred Scott and his life.
A Slave in a Free State
Dred Scott was born a slave in 1795. He was one of many slaves owned by Peter Blow, a plantation owner in Missouri. After Blow died Dred was sent to John Emerson’s plantation. Emerson was a surgeon in the U.S. Army. When Emerson was reassigned to the free state of Illinois he took Dred Scott with him. This is when the story got interesting.
Emerson took Scott with him to Illinois and then the free territory of Wisconsin before returning to Missouri. Soon after Emerson and Dred Scott arrived in Missouri, Emerson died. When Emerson died, Dred Scott asked his widow for his freedom. After he was turned down, he decided to sue the family for his freedom, in 1846. He claimed that the years he spent in free territory made him a free citizen of the United States.
Going to Court
At first he went to the Supreme Court of Missouri to try to get his freedom. He lost in that court. The next stop was the Missouri Federal Circuit Court. This time the case was actually a battle, but the court still ruled against him. Now Dred Scott was very angry, this time he would go to the highest court in the country - The U.S. Supreme Court.
When Dred came in to the Supreme Court he had come prepared. He had lost 2 cases already, but now he wanted to win. This case took forever, it seemed. Finally, in 1857, the court had reached its decision. After ten long years of fighting did Dred Scott finally have his freedom? Chief Justice Robert Taney’s decision was… NO!
The Shocking Supreme Court Decision
This ruling stunned all of America. One of the key points of the ruling was that all Blacks, whether slave or free, were not citizens of the United States and that they had no right to sue in Federal court. The Chief Justice came to this conclusion because Blacks were not recognized as citizens when the Constitution was ratified. The other key point of the ruling was that slaves were property, and property rights were protected under the Constitution. Under his ruling, slave owners had the right to take and keep slaves in free states and territories.
Taney was a southerner and a slave owner. He thought that this decision would put an end to the conflict over slavery and prevent a civil war. As he would soon find out, his thinking was very wrong. People living in free states were outraged that the Supreme Court’s decision would allow slavery in their states.
When Dred Scott died in 1858 he was not a free man. Although he had fought hard and worked his way into the history books, he did not have the one and only one thing that he wanted… FREEDOM.
Dred Scott Timeline
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