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Dred Scott Decision: 1856

Scott Sues For Freedom, Scott Tries Federal Courts, Victory For Slavery, Defeat For Scott

Appellant: Dred Scott
Defendant: John F.A. Sanford
Plaintiff Claim: That Scott, who was a slave, had become a free man whenhis owner had taken him to a state designated as "free" under the 1820 Missouri Compromise
Chief Defense Lawyers: Hugh A. Garland, H.S.Geyer, George W. Goode, Reverdy Johnson, and Lyman D Norris
Chief Lawyers for Appellant Samuel M. Bay, Montgomery Blair, George Ticknor Curtis, Alexander P. Field, Roswell M. Field, and David N. Hall
Justices: John A. Campbell, John Catron, Benjamin R. Curtis, Peter Daniel, Robert Cooper Grier, John McLean, Samuel Nelson, Roger B. Taney, andJames M. Wayne.
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: 1856 December Term
Decision: That Dred Scott was still a slave, regardless of where his owner took him.

SIGNIFICANCE: The Dred Scott decision effectively ended the Missouri Compromise, hardening the political rivalry between North and South and paving the way for the Civil War.

Dred Scott was born in Virginia sometime in the late 1790s, although historical records concerning the exact time and place are incomplete. Because Scott was black and born into slavery, no one at the time would have taken much interest in such details, other than to note the arrival of another piece of property.

Scott's owner was Peter Blow, who owned a reasonably successful plantation. In 1819, Blow took his family and several slaves, including Scott, to Alabama to start a new plantation. Blow grew tired of farming, and in 1830 moved to St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis was then a booming frontier town, and Blow opened a hotel. Both Blow and his wife became seriously ill, and were dead by 1832.

Scott's travels westward in a sense mirrored the expansion of the United States during this time period. From the original 13 states on the Atlantic Seaboard, American colonists had pushed to the Mississippi River and beyond. This expansion gave rise to serious political problems, however. Southern states wanted to bring slavery and the plantation lifestyle into the new territories, whereas the Northern states wanted to keep the territories free. Both sides were afraid that, when portions of the territories were eventually admitted as states, the other side would gain political supremacy in Congress owing to the new states' senators and representatives. In 1820, the North and the South struck a deal called the Missouri Compromise. Missouri was admitted to the union as a slave state and Maine was admitted as a free state, preserving the political balance in Congress. Further, slavery was forbidden in any territory north of, but permitted in any territory south of, Missouri's northern border at approximately 36 degrees latitude north.

After the Blows' deaths, their estate sold Scott to an army doctor named John Emerson. Emerson took Scott with him during tours of duty in Illinois and in that part of the Wisconsin and Iowa Territories which would become Minnesota. Both Illinois and Minnesota were within the free territory of the Missouri Compromise. Emerson returned to St. Louis and died December 29, 1843. He left everything, including Scott, to his wife and appointed as executor his wife's brother, John F.A. Sanford.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882