Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Nov 2023
Wordcount: 313 words


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In 1834, Dred Scott, a slave, was purchased by Army Surgeon, Dr. John Emerson in Missouri, a slave-state. Dr. Emerson subsequently relocated to Illinois, a free state, with Scott, hence offering an environment whereby Scott technically should have gained his freedom. Upon Dr. Emerson’s death, Scott was returned to Missouri, leading to his failed attempt to purchase his and his family's freedom from Emerson’s widow. Scott thereafter sued for his freedom in the Missouri courts, an action that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court (Dolan, 2007).


The major legal questions in the case were: (1) whether Scott as a black person -- and specifically as a slave -- was a citizen with the right to sue in the federal court, and (2) if the status of a slave changes due to temporary residence in a free-state.

Holding and Rule

The court, through Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, ruled in a 7-2 decision against Dred Scott. The court opined that black people, free or enslaved, were not citizens according to the U.S. Constitution and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court. Furthermore, the court cited that the move to free territories did not make a slave free upon return to a slave state since Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories (Ehrlich, 2007).


The ruling was in favor of Sandford. Therefore, Dred Scott remained a slave. The ruling further held that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which restricted slavery in some U.S. territories, was unconstitutional.


Ehrlich, J. (2007). The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dolan, M.E. (2007). The Dred Scott Decision. Minnesota: Capstone.

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