On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court made the so-called “Dred Scott decision.” It ruled that African Americans could not be citizens 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 critics of the Dred Scott decision, President Abraham Lincoln.
citizen
Noun

member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

critic
Noun

opponent of a policy.

emancipation
Noun

freedom.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

harsh
Adjective

extreme.

inferior
Adjective

of lower quality.

legal
Adjective

allowed by law.

military
Noun

armed forces.

notable
Adjective

important or impressive.

racist
Adjective

community or government policy of denying certain rights to people based on their ancestry, usually signified by skin color.

regulate
Verb

to determine and administer a set of rules for an activity.

severe
Adjective

harsh.

slavery
Noun

process and condition of owning another human being or being owned by another human being.

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