Plaintiff: Dred Scott
Defendant: John F.A. Sandford
Plaintiff's Claim: That Scott, a slave, became a free man when taken by his owner to a non-slave state as recognized by the Missouri Compromise.
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Samuel M. Bay, Montgomery Blair, George T. Curtis, Alexander P. Field, Roswell M. Field, David N. Hall
Chief Lawyers for Defense: Hugh A Garland, H.S. Geyer, George W. Goode, Reverdy Johnson, Lyman D. Norris
Justices for the Court: John A. Campbell, John Catron, Peter V. Daniel, Robert C. Grier, Samuel Nelson, Chief Justice Robert B. Taney, James M. Wayne
Justices Dissenting: Benjamin Curtis, John McLean
Date of Decision: March 6, 1857
Decision: Ruled that Scott was still a slave and that slaves and their descendants were property and could never be U.S. citizens and can never become a citizen. The Court also found the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.
Significance: Instead of settling the slavery issue, the decision fueled the controversy further. The ruling most likely hastened the start of the Civil War.
A slave is a person who works for another person against his or her will as a result of force. Dred Scott was a Missouri slave who attempted to gain his freedom through the courts. His case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and on March 6, 1857 the Court handed down a decision. The ruling in Dred Scott v. Standford has been described as the Court's greatest mistake, a tragic error, a political calamity. Not only did the opinion cast a dark shadow over the Court's trustworthiness and prestige, but it most likely hastened the beginning of the Civil War (1861–1865).
Born in Virginia in the late 1790s, Scott was owned by Peter Blow. A plantation owner, Blow took Scott to Alabama in 1819 then, after growing tired of farming, moved his family and slaves including Scott to the booming frontier town of St. Louis, Missouri in 1830. Scott was sold in 1833 to an army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson of St. Louis.
Scott's travels west mirrored U.S. westward expansion during the same time period. Americans had pushed west from the original thirteen states to beyond the Mississippi River. Slavery, which was permitted by the U.S. Constitution, became a serious political problem as westward expansion continued. Northern states who had chosen to be free states, not allowing slavery, wanted to keep the new western territories free. Southern states, slave states, wanted to bring slavery and the plantation lifestyle to the territories. Both sides feared that as new states were admitted to the Union, the other side would gain a controlling vote in the Senate.
In 1818 the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the United States. Slavery was legal in the territory and most people expected Missouri to enter as a slave state. At this time there were eleven free states and eleven slave states. Therefore, twenty-two senators were from free states and twenty-two senators from slave states. Admitting Missouri would tip the balance. In 1820 an agreement called the Missouri Compromise was reached in Congress between its Northern and Southern members. Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine was admitted as a free state. The Compromise also banned slavery from north of Missouri's southern boundary, except in the state of...