Why The Dred Scott Case Was Important


Oak Alley Plantation

The states of Illinois and Missouri are rife with Civil War history and American slave history. One such case that impacted the United States was the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Before then, slavery was supposedly confined to the South, but as we’ve seen in my previous posts, slavery wasn’t confined to the South.

Before Dred Scott, slaves who lived in Free States sued their masters and obtained their freedom. Irene Emerson “owned” Dred Scott while her first husband was stationed in Wisconsin, a Free State. Scott sued to gain his freedom and won, but Mrs. Emerson would have none of this, so the case went to the Supreme Court. The verdict was easily predictable because most of the justices were proslavery.

The questions remains: Why did slavery last so long in the United States?

The answer is simple. The Three-Fifths Clause in the Constitution allowed slaves to be counted as part of the population. Therefore, the South packed the Supreme Court with proslavery justices. Indeed, most of the American Presidents came from the South until Lincoln got elected.

Anyway, Mrs. Emerson won her case. Not only could slaves no longer sue their masters to obtain their freedom in Free States, but they were deemed as property, not individuals. As a result, slavery was no longer confined to the South. Slaveholders could bring their “property” into the North, as well as into the new states and territories. This directly led to the Civil War.

Was there any justice in this? Oh yes. After Mrs. Emerson’s first husband died, she fell in love with an abolitionist and was forced to manumit Dred Scott. In the end, Mr. Scott obtained his freedom, as would the rest of the American slaves.

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