On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court made the so-called “Dred Scott decision.” It ruled that African Americans could not be citizen
s of the United States, and therefore had no standing in the U.S. legal
system. The court also ruled that the U.S. government
had no authority to regulate slavery
in any of its states or territories. The Dred Scott decision was a severe
defeat to the anti-slavery movement.
Dred Scott was a slave who worked in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Scott’s owner, a doctor in the military
, took Scott with him when he moved to Fort Snelling, in what is today Minnesota. Fort Snelling was then in the Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was not allowed. Scott and his wife, Harriet, worked as slaves in Fort Snelling for years.
Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom after they moved back to St. Louis. They thought they had the right to emancipation
because they had lived and worked in a “free” territory. The courts ruled against them, and the legal battle lasted 11 years. The Supreme Court’s ruling was harsh
. It said that not only did slaves
have no rights anywhere in the U.S. or its territories—neither did free African Americans.
Although Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney emancipated his own slaves, his ruling opinion is notable
for its racist
language: “[African Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior
order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Taney lived to read the Emancipation Proclamation, written by one of the most vocal critic
s of the Dred Scott decision, President Abraham Lincoln.