America in the 1850s

The Dred Scott Decision and Its Impact

Who was Dred Scott?

He was, perhaps, the single best-known African American of the mid-nineteenth century. Born in slavery in Missouri, Dred Scott sued in federal court for his freedom, based on the fact that his master had taken him to other “free” states. Scott’s master was a physician, and he had taken Scott to Illinois and Wisconsin. Given that these were free states, where slavery was expressly forbidden, Scott now sued. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his and his family’s freedom when his owner took them all to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruled that slaves were not U.S. citizens and also ruled against Scott based on the Missouri Compromise.


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