Dread Scott was a slave in Missouri. From 1833 to 1843, he resided in Illinois (a free state) and in an area of the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After returning to Missouri, Scott sued unsuccessfully in the Missouri courts for his freedom, claiming that his residence in free territory made him a free man. Scott then brought a new suit in federal court. Scott’s master maintained that no pure-blooded Negro of African descent and the descendant of slaves could be a citizen in the sense of Article III of the Constitution.
The Dread Scott decision was important because it unleashed a storm of protest against the Court and the administration of President Buchanan, which supported the decision. The justices’ plans to make a definitive ruling that would settle the controversy over slavery backfired as Republicans charged that a “Slave Power” conspiracy extended into the highest reaches of government. Violent struggles continued in the Kansas and Nebraska territories, where “free soil” and proslavery guerilla bands terrorized each other.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
A major landmark on the road to the Civil War, the Dread Scott decision was overturned with the adoption of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution in 1865 and 1868. These amendments ended slavery and established firmly the citizenship of all persons, regardless of race, creed, or previous condition of servitude. As for Dread Scott, two months after the Supreme Court’s decision, Emerson’s widow sold Scott and his family to the Blow family, who freed them in May of 1857. Clearly Scott v Sanford was not an easily forgotten case.
That it still raised such strong emotions well into the Civil War shows that it helped bring on the war by hardening the positions of each side to the point where both were willing to fight over the issue of slavery. The North realized that if it did not act swiftly, the Southern states might take the precedent of the Scott case as a justification for expanding slavery into new territories and free states alike. The South recognized the threat of the Republican party and knew that the party had gained a considerable amount of support as a result of the Northern paranoia in the aftermath of the decision.
In the years following the case, Americans realized that these two mindsets, both quick to defend their side, both distrustful of the other side, could not coexist in the same nation. The country realized that, as Abraham Lincoln stated, “`A house divided against itself cannot stand. ‘ . . . This government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. ” Scott’s case left America in “shocks and throes and convulsions” that only the complete eradication of slavery through war could cure.