Civil Rights and Protests


What was the Dred Scott decision and why was it important?

Dred Scott (1795–1858), a Virginia slave, sued for his freedom after living on free soil in Missouri. The decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford rendered on March 6, 1857, was the first decision by the U.S. Supreme Court denying blacks citizenship. The ruling stated that blacks could not be citizens of the United States, even though they might be citizens of their states. Prior to this decision, Scott had many times attempted to purchase his freedom with no success. He had also been denied freedom after suing in the lower courts. A county court first denied his suit for freedom and damages, but set a new trial date for December 1847. Scott then filed suit in the state circuit court in St. Louis. He actually won this suit, based on the fact that he had lived for five years with one of his owners in two areas that did not support slavery—the territory of Wisconsin and the state of Illinois. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in its 1857 ruling. The doctrine of dual citizenship remained important and resurfaced in the post-Civil War attack on black rights. In 1853 the Supreme Court again affirmed the doctrine of dual citizenship, federal and state, and suggested that most civil rights fell under state citizenship, and so were not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Virginia slave Dred Scott tried unsuccessfully to purchase his freedom, and then sued for it in Missouri, but his victory in that state was overturned at the state and then U.S. Supreme Court levels.


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