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Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott V Sandford

The Dred Scott case was an important Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney that has several key elements. First, the Dred Scott decision ruled that slaves and their descendants (even those not born into slavery) were not part of the population protected under the United States Constitution. This court case held that the Federal Government was not able to abolish slavery in the territories and, consequently, slaves could not be removed from the possession of their owners without due process of the law. Finally, it held that slaves were unable to become citizens of the United States and, therefore, unable to file suit in a court of law.


Dred Scott was a slave who was owned by John Emerson, a major in the United States Army. Throughout Emerson's ownership of Scott, he was stationed at several places in the U.S., including the territory of Wisconsin and the State of Illinois. Both of these states were considered free states. During this time, Emerson allowed Scott to marry and experience other freedoms that were not generally allowed of slaves.

In 1837, Emerson was assigned to a military base in St. Louis, Missouri, at which point he left Scott and his wife in the Wisconsin Territory. Soon after, Emerson was transferred to Louisiana where he sent for Scott and his wife. After John Emerson's death, Dred Scott attempted to purchase his freedom from Emerson's wife, but was unsuccessful. This prompted him to sue Emerson. Scott won his freedom temporarily, but on appeal the decision was reversed.

In 1853, Scott once again sued for his freedom, this time in Federal court. This is referred to as the Scott v. Sandford case because Emerson's brother, John Sandford, took over responsibility for the case. When the Missouri Supreme Court once again ruled that Scott was a slave, he appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Although the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri did not have the jurisdiction to make a ruling on the Scott v. Sandford matter, the Court continued on to make several decisions. One issue in the Dred Scott decision was that the Missouri Compromise had made Minnesota a free State and Scott had resided there for some time. The Supreme Court held that Congress did not have the power to declare territories to be free.

NEXT: Gideon v. Wainwright

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