Dred Scott v. Sandford

(1857)

In March 1857 Chief Justice Roger B. Taney announced the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Court’s most important decision on slavery to date, Dred Scott v. Sandford had a dramatic effect on American politics as well as law. The case involved a Missouri slave named Dred Scott who claimed to be free because his master had taken him to what was then the Wisconsin Territory and is today the state of Minnesota. In the Missouri Compromise (also known as the Compromise of 1820), Congress has declared that there would be no slavery north of the state of Missouri. Thus, Scott claimed to be free because he had lived in a federal territory where slavery was not allowed.

In an opinion that was more than fifty pages long, Chief Justice Taney held that Scott was still a slave, that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that Congress did not have the authority to ban slavery from a federal territory. In a part of the decision that shocked many...

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An 1887 engraving of Dred Scott (Library of Congress)

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