The Dred Scott Decision

Introduction

Portrait of Dred ScottIn 1820, the Missouri Compromise permitted the admission of Missouri to the Union as a slave state. Admitted along with the free state of Maine, the Missouri Compromise maintained the balance between the number and free and slave states admitted to the Union. Dred Scott, born in 1799 as a slave to the Peter Blow family of Virginia, moved to St. Louis with the Blow family and was eventually sold to Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon stationed at Jefferson Barracks. For the next twelve years, Scott accompanied Dr. Emerson to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory where slavery has been prohibited by Congress.  During this time, Scott married Harriet Robinson, a slave, and they had two children.

After Dr. Emerson's death, Dred Scott and his wife sued Mrs. Emerson for their freedom based on their years of residence in non-slave states. Although the case was dismissed, the Scotts are permitted to refile the case where the jury ruled in their favor. The case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court which overruled the circuit court and and Dred Scott and his family returned to slavery.

In 1856, Scott's lawyers appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, filing suit against John Sanford, Mrs. Emerson's brother who has taken over Dr. Emerson's estate. The Supreme Court ruled that not only was Dred Scott a slave, but as such, he was not a citizen of the United States with rights to bring suit in federal court. In addition, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the provision in the Missouri Compromise that prohibited the expansion of slavery into the territories.

In 1857, Mrs. Emerson remarried and her new husband, opposed to slavery, returned Dred Scott and his family to the Blow family, who granted Scott his freedom. The following year, Dred Scott died of tuberculosis and was buried in Wesleyan Cemetery in St. Louis.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

    STANDARD 1: The causes of the Civil War 

Standard 1A: The student understands how the North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War.

5-12: Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict. [Compare competing historical narratives] 
7-12: Explain how events after the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision in 1857 contributed to increasing sectional polarization. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships] 
7-12: Analyze the importance of the "free labor" ideology in the North and its appeal in preventing the further extension of slavery in the new territories. [Examine the influence of ideas] 

Primary Resources

See: The Dred Scott Case, an exhibit by Washington University Libraries, which provides electronic images of 85 documents from the Dred Scott Collection arranged and described by the Missouri State Archives. The original Dred Scott case file is located in the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.

  1. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 15 January 1857 
    NOTES: "The Washington correspondent of the New York Herald states that the United States Supreme Court have come to a decision upon the important questions presented in the case of Dred Scott recently argued before the tribunal."
    SOURCE: The St. Mary's Beacon Collection, MSA SC 5360, M 1022
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  2. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 7, 1857
    NOTES: "Power to acquire territory carries power to govern it."
    SOURCE: The Daily Baltimore Republican Collection, MSA SC 2894, M 2043-2
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  3. TITLE: Mr. Buchanan's Cabinet -- Judge Black, the Attorney General -- Decision on the Missouri Slave Case -- The Missouri Compromise Declared Unconstitutional 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 7, 1857
    NOTES: "The opinion...was listened to with profound interest, and will be everywhere respected for its wisdom, and acquiesced in as the decision of the constitutional tribunal."
    SOURCE: The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  4. TITLE: Opinions of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 7, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  5. TITLE: The Decision in the Case of Dred Scott.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 7, 1857
    SOURCE: Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  6. TITLE: [No Title]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 7, 1857
    SOURCE: Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  7. TITLE: The Important Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on the Slavery Question
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 8, 1857
    SOURCE: Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  8. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 9, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The delivery of the this opinion...whether as a decision of the Supreme Court, or for the constitutional arguments on which it stands, will exert the most powerful and salutary influence throughout the United States."
    SOURCE: 
    The Daily Baltimore Republican Collection, MSA SC 2894, M 2043-2
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  9. TITLE: U.S. Supreme Court -- The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 9, 1857
    NOTES:
    "Judge McLean delivered his views in the Dred Scott case to-day..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  10. TITLE: The Decision in the Supreme Court 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 9, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The decision, we are glad to say, seems to be welcomed in most quarters." 
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  11. TITLE: The Issue Forced Upon Us
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 9, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University

  12. TITLE: Decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Case 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 10, 1857
    NOTES:
    "...The Chief-Justice said, from the best consideration, we have come to the conclusion that the African race who came to this country, whether free or slave, were not intended to be included in the constitution for the enjoyment of any personal rights or benefits; and the two provisions which point to them treat them as property..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  13. TITLE: The Dred Scott Decision 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 
    March 10, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The opinions will be read with interest, and therefore, in view of the importance of the questions decided and thus set at rest, we willingly give up so much space to their insertion."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  14. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 10, 1857
    NOTES:
    "In short, the court sustains the Democratic doctrine throughout..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Easton Star Collection, MSA SC 3596, M 11316
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  15. TITLE: Court and Constitution
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 10, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  16. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 10, 1857
    SOURCE: Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  17. TITLE: Half a Million Citizens Disfranchised
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 10, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  18. TITLE: The Opinion of Chief Justice Taney
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 10, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  19. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 11, 1857
    NOTES:
    "...we can foresee that this decision will create, everywhere, a profound sensation."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  20. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case. The Dissenting Opinions of Judges McLean and Curtis
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 11, 1857
    NOTES:
    "Dissenting Opinions of Judges McLean and Curtis:  ...It had never been held necessary that to constitute a citizen a man should have the qualification of an elector."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  21. TITLE: The Conspiracy Against Freedom
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 11, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  22. TITLE: [No Title]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 11, 1857
    SOURCE: Tribune (New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  23. TITLE: The "Dred Scott Case"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 12, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The Supreme Court has given a decision in this case, of great interest to all sections of our Union, and one that will go very far towards allaying sectional excitement on the subject of slavery."
    SOURCE: 
    The Annapolis Gazette Collection, MSA SC 3322, M 8825
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  24. TITLE: Dred Scott's Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 12, 1857
    SOURCE: Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  25. TITLE: [No Title]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    March 12, 1857
    SOURCE: Tribune (New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  26. TITLE: SUPREME COURT vs. THE ABOLITIONISTS
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 12, 1857
    SOURCE: Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  27. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 14, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Dred Scott, is of the utmost importance, not only at the present time, but for generations to come."
    SOURCE: 
    The Baltimore County Advocate Collection, MSA SC 2932, M 3337
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  28. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 14, 1857
    NOTES:
    "We hope now that the agitation of the slavery question may be set at rest by this decision. It is, we have no doubt, the death knell of the democratic party..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Easton Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2940, M 11033
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  29. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 14, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The moral of the opinion is that the United States government cannot exercise any power over persons and property in the territories that they cannot do in the States."
    SOURCE: 
    The Kent News Collection, MSA SC 2901, M 2355
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  30. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case and the Missouri Compromise
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 14, 1857
    SOURCE: Courier (Natchez, Mississippi). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  31. TITLE: The Decision in the Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 16, 1857
    SOURCE: Journal (Louisville, Kentucky). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  32. TITLE: The Past and the Future
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 17, 1857
    SOURCE: Mercury (Charleston, South Carolina). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  33. TITLE: AGITATION OF THE SLAVERY QUESTION
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 17, 1857
    SOURCE: Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  34. TITLE: "Dred Scott" in the Pulpit...
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 17, 1857
    NOTES:
    "'Dred Scott' has already got into the pulpit, and for the future will be a great hobby, no doubt, for many of our clergymen who love to mingle in politics to the detriment of religion."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  35. TITLE: The Question Settled. -- Black Republicanism vs. the Constitution
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 18, 1857
    SOURCE: New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  36. TITLE: The Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 19, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The opinion of the Supreme Court...decides that...Negroes, whether slaves or free--that is, men of the African race--are not citizens of the United States by the Constitution."
    SOURCE: 
    The Montgomery County Sentinel Collection, MSA SC 2813, M 475-02
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  37. TITLE: The Supreme Court
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 19, 1857
    SOURCE: Evening Journal (Albany, New York). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  38. TITLE: [The Dred Scott Case]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 
    March 21, 1857
    NOTES:
    "The late decision in the case of Dred Scott has very much displeased the people of that fanatical State [Massachusetts]..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Easton Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2940, M 11033
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  39. TITLE: History of the Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 27, 1857
    NOTES: 
    "...It is evident that Scott's name has been used by a class of slavery agitators for political effect."
    SOURCE: 
    The Montgomery County Sentinel Collection, MSA SC 2813, M 475-02
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  40. TITLE: The Millennium at Last
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 27, 1857
    SOURCE: Mercury (Charleston, South Carolina). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  41. TITLE: Supreme Court Decision in the Dred Scott Case
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 30, 1857
    NOTES: 
    "A confident expectation is entertained here that the mission of Mr. Walker and Mr. Stanton to Kansas will prevent any further difficulty in Kansas..."
    SOURCE: 
    The Sun Collection 
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Law Library microfilm

  42. TITLE: The Issue Must be Met
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 31, 1857
    SOURCE: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Georgia). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  43. TITLE: [No title]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 31, 1857
    SOURCE: Republican Journal (Columbus, Wisconsin). From Secession Era Editorials Project, Furman University.

  44. TITLE: A Legal Question Under the Dred Scott Decision
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: April 16, 1857
    NOTES: 
    "Democratic canvassers in the town of Gloucester (R.I.) struck the names of colored voters in that town from the lists before the election Wednesday, alleging that they were justified in this action by the decision in the case of Dred Scott."
    SOURCE: 
    The St. Mary's Beacon Collection, MSA SC 4360, M 1022
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  45. TITLE: Transcript, Lincoln's Speech at Springfield, Illinois on the Dred Scott Decision
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 26, 1857
    SOURCE: TeachingAmericanHistory.org

  46. TITLE: The Dred Scott Decision
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  April 29, 1858
    NOTES: 
    "We, therefore, rejoice to find that the Hon. Rev. Johnson (who was a counsel in case) has so effectually exposed the injustice of the criticisms of the Court's action in the case to which we refer, as well as the sweeping impropriety of the personalities to which the maligners of the highest legal tribunal in the land, in and out of Congress, see fit to resort, in the premises." The argument of Reverdy Johnson then follows.
    SOURCE: 
    The St. Mary's Beacon Collection, MSA SC 4360, M 1022
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  47. TITLE: The Decision of the Supreme Court
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: December 2, 1858
    NOTES:
    This article discusses misrepresentations and interpretations of the Dred Scott Decision by politicians, including Jefferson Davis, and prints a portion of the actual decision.
    SOURCE: 
    The St. Mary's Beacon Collection, MSA SC 4360, M 1022
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

  48. TITLE: The Dred Scott Decision
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 26, 1859
    NOTES:
    "The Court decided that there is no difference between property in a slave and any other property."
    SOURCE: 
    The St. Mary's Beacon Collection, MSA SC 4360, M 1022
    REPOSITORY:
    Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resource

Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856) (USSC+). Syllabus, decision, and opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional Instructional Resources

Before Dred Scott: Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri. From the Office of the Missouri Secretary of State.

The Dred Scott Case. From Washington University in St. Louis

Secondary Resources

Ehrlich, Walter. "The Origins of the Dred Scott Case." The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 59, No. 2. (Apr., 1974), pp. 132-142.

Ehrlich, Walter. "Was the Dred Scott Case Valid?" The Journal of American History, Vol. 55, No. 2. (Sep., 1968), pp. 256-265.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. "Roger B. Taney and the Sectional Crisis." The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 43, No. 4. (Nov., 1977), pp. 555-566.

Wiecek, William M. "Slavery and Abolition Before the United States Supreme Court, 1820-1860." The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 1. (Jun., 1978), pp. 34-59.

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

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This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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