Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott v. Sandford was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court upholding that the Constitution of the United States was not meant to include American citizenship for Black people.

Dred Scott, who was born into slavery in Virginia around 1795, sued Irene Emerson for his freedom in 1846. Scott argued that he and his wife should be granted freedom because they had lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory (where slavery was prohibited) for several years. Scott v. Emerson was tried in 1847 in Missouri. Evidence presented by Emerson was ruled to be hearsay, and in a retrial, the jury ruled in favor of Scott’s freedom. Emerson appealed the verdict, and the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the lower court ruling, arguing that Missouri did not have to defer to the laws of free states.

In 1853, Scott sued for his freedom under federal law. Emerson had moved to Massachusetts, and transferred Scott to her brother, John F. A. Sanford. Scott lost in federal court, and appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1857, the Supreme Court found that Scott, nor any other person of African descent, could claim citizenship in the United States and therefore could not bring suit in federal court. It also voided ordinances and acts that imparted freedom or citizenship to non-white people in territories.

Despite losing his suit, Scott and family were manumitted on May 26, 1857.

School Timeline
Historical Context