All News & Blogs
The Dred Scott case pushed America into the Civil War
AMERICA'S discomfort with slav-
Then, in 1857, came perhaps the most unjust U.S. Supreme Court decision in American history. A Virginia-born slave, Dred Scott, had traveled with his master, a U.S. Army surgeon, to free territories. When Dr. John Emerson died, Scott, who by then was married with two daughters, sued in court in St. Louis for his freedom. The question became, did a lengthy residency in states or territories where slavery was illegal create a claim to freedom?
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where, in 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the 7-2 majority in Dred Scott v. Sandford, opined that blacks were "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
Those words, shocking to read today, deeply impacted the nation: The decision created the economic Panic of 1857, solidified opposition to slavery in the North, split the Democratic Party (which included Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders), strengthened the Republican Party, and ultimately led to the Civil War, where the question of slavery would be parsed out in bullets and blood.
Moral opposition to the Dred Scott decision eventually resulted in multifaceted legislation: Congress passed a bill pro-hibiting slavery in the territories that Lincoln signed on this day in 1862. It was the beginning of the end of a terrible social injustice.
After the Supreme Court decision, ownership of Dred Scott passed to Taylor Blow, who emancipated Scott and his family just three months later. Scott is buried in St. Louis; a marker on his gravesite reads, "In memory of a simple man who wanted to be free." Dred Scott dreamed better things that the United States was at that time willing to grant.