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Dred Scott and slavery in Missouri

Picture of Dred Scott and links to his story



Tonight's Main Event…Underdog Dred Scott takes on Heavyweight Champion, the United States of Americaaaaa!


Stephanie and Daphne stand beneath the Gateway to the West

This is the story of one of the most important court cases in our nation's history. It was brought about by Dred Scott, an African American slave, who fought for his freedom, and helped pave the path toward the Civil War.


Dred Scott was the "property" of a man who lived in the slave state of Missouri. He sold Scott to a military surgeon named Dr. Emerson. Here is where things get tricky. Scott's new owner took him on duty with him to Illinois and Wisconsin - two places where slavery was banned. So for nine years, Dred Scott lived on free soil.

St. Louis' famous Old Court House

Eventually, Dr. Emerson went back home to Missouri, so he took Scott with him. Now Scott was in a slave state again. Dr. Emerson died, so Scott was passed on to his widow, Mrs. Emerson. By this time, Dred Scott had a wife and children, and desperately wanted the freedom he had when he was in the North. So he and his wife, Harriet, decided to sue for their freedom. You see, in Missouri, once slaves were set free, they could never be made slaves again. Since Dred and Harriet Scott had lived free lives in the North, they thought they should be free forever.

Portrait of Dred and Harriet Scott

Back then, people who supported slavery considered African Americans "objects" that could be bought, owned or sold. So many people thought that it was unfair for Mrs. Emerson to lose her property. After all, a slave like Scott was worth the equivalent of $14,000.

The Dred Scott case was heard in a courtroom similar to this

This case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. After 11 years, the judges ruled in favor of Mrs. Emerson. But wait - it gets worse. They also said that slaves weren't really citizens of the United States and couldn't sue people at all! They said that all slaves were personal property - even in states like Illinois, where slavery wasn't technically allowed, and that slaves "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Can you imagine?! So much for our Constitution's claim that "all men are created equal"!

This was a disaster! At least before, slaves could always try to earn enough money to buy their freedom. Now, they couldn't even do that.


Drivers in the Midwest continuously amaze me.

Abraham Lincoln was one of the first people to speak out against slavery, and soon he had many people on his side. Within four years, the North and South disagreed completely, and the Civil War began.

The war, of course, is another story. This one ends on a happier note. Mrs. Emerson decided to turn Dred and his family back over to their original owners, who then set them free, so they could never be made slaves again. Unfortunately, Dred died 16 months later, but his wife and daughters lived to see the Civil War that their court case partially inspired.

Daphne pays respects to Dred Scott

Daphne and I decided to pay our respects to this brave couple at the St. Louis cemetery where they are buried. The inscription on Dred's tombstone read: "In memory of a simple man who wanted to be free."


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Bloodshed in Kansas: we're in the war now, Toto
Neda - Mozart vs. Jay-Z and other reasons to go to war
Daphne - Abraham Lincoln: A log cabin boy wonder!