Dred Scott, a slave who sued for his freedom and saw his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, began life under the ownership of Peter Blow of Southampton County, Virginia. After Blow’s death, Dred Scott was sold to a US Army surgeon named John Emerson.
Emerson and his wife traveled to Fort Armstrong in Illinois and took Scott with them, though Illinois had already abolished slavery. From there, the Emersons and Scott traveled to Wiscon¬ sin, another free state, and again Scott was illegally kept, under Emerson’s assertion that he was a resident of Missouri who was only temporarily traveling under the com¬ mand of the US Army.
Without resistance, the Emersons took Scott back to Missouri in 1839. Mr. Emer¬ son died in 1843 and Dred Scott attempted to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson. When she refused to free him and his fami¬ ly, Scott sued, claiming that for years he’d been enslaved in free states and should now be granted the freedom he’d been due years earlier.
Though he lost the first case, Scott perse¬ vered, taking his case to a second court in St. Louis. This time he won, only to have the ruling overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852, two years after the St. Louis court had handed him the right to freedom.
To support the next and final case, Dred Scott accepted the help of friends, family and white aboli¬ tionists who prepared him for the United States Supreme Court.
This ruling was the most bit¬ ter. The US Supreme Court denied Scott the rights of an American citizen, and therefore the right to sue. On March 6, 1857, Judge Roger B. Taney ruled that slaveowners and their property could travel freely through any state. All anti-slav¬ ery laws were declared uncon¬ stitutional, and Dred Scott died two years later in Missouri.
To many, Scott’s case was the last straw. Those who’d believed that slavery could be abolished without violence were convinced otherwise. The backlash was extreme, and Scott’s case strengthened the commitment to freedom that finally pushed America into civil war, the war held responsi¬ ble for the abolition of slavery nationwide.