Dred Scott Takes His Fight for Freedom to the U.S. Supreme Court

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Date: Aug. 23, 2016
Publisher: BBC Studios Americas Inc.
Document Type: Video file
Duration: 00:02:50
Length: 336 words
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Dred Scott, an enslaved African American who had previously lived in free territory, sued for his freedom in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. He lost that fight, but was eventually granted freedom by his owner. The Court's determination in his case, which would become known as the Dred Scott Decision, would come to be considered a low point in the Court's history.
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Dred Scott, an enslaved African-American made history when he sued for his freedom. His case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1857. Its decision not only determined his fate but also further divided the nation as it moved inevitably toward Civil War. Scott's quest to gain his freedom began in 1846. Prior to that he lived nearly nine years in free territories working in the service of Dr. John Emerson who had bought him. During that time Scott had taken no steps to secure his freedom. When Emerson died his widow, living in St. Louis, hired Scott. Now in Missouri, a slave state, he began his quest. In 1846 Scott and his wife filed suit in the St. Louis District Court and lost on a technicality. Eight years and several trials later the case made it to the US Circuit Court in Missouri which upheld an earlier decision against Scott. At that point Scott's only option was to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In 1857 the makeup of the Supreme Court was decidedly pro-slavery. Most of the justices came from slaveholding families including Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. He wrote the majority opinion stating that any person of black African descent was not a US citizen and therefore had no right to sue. Moreover the Missouri Compromise of 1820 restricting slavery in central territories was unconstitutional. After the decision Scott was returned to the widow Emerson. Later that year she remarried. Her second husband opposed slavery and returned to Scott to his original owners, the Blough [phonetic] family. Sympathetic to Scott's cause the Bloughs granted freedom to him and his wife. Less than nine months later Scott died of tuberculosis in September, 1858. The Dred Scott decision sharpened divisions between North and South and remains to many scholars the moral low point of the Supreme Court's history but the case would also make an African-American hero out of the slave who dared to sue for his freedom.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|NMQBYY287760635