Literature Study GuidesDred Scott V Sandford

Dred Scott v. Sandford | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

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Law, U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • Dr. John Emerson traveled with his slave Dred Scott from the slave state of Missouri to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory, which were both free. Emerson later returned to Missouri, where he died.
  • When Emerson's widow refused to free Scott, he filed a lawsuit in 1846 claiming that his residence in a free state had freed him. When the widow left Missouri, she gave control of her husband's estate and legal battles to her brother John F.A. Sanford (spelled Sandford in court documents).
  • The ensuing legal conflict took over a decade to resolve. In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled seven to two that because Scott was descended from enslaved Africans he was not a citizen and therefore had no legal rights.
  • The case set a judicial precedent to protect the institution of slavery, declaring that African Americans could never be citizens.
  • The court's decision fueled national division around the issue of slavery, primarily because it nullified Congress's authority to ban slavery from any territory in the United States. This division finally erupted in the Civil War (1861–65).
  • Today Scott v. Sandford is regarded as one of the most mishandled cases in American history for its racist majority opinion and reliance on emotion and opinion rather than legal reasoning.


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