Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)

by Camille Johnson

Dred Scott was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia.

In 1820, Dred Scott was sold to a new owner, who him moved from Missouri to Illinois (a free state); then to Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was prohibited by the Missouri Compromise.

In 1838, Dred Scott’s owner moved him to Louisiana. Scott could have sued for his freedom then, but chose not to.

When Dred Scott tried to purchase his freedom, his owner refused.

Dred Scott sued for his freedom, arguing that when he moved from the slave-state of Missouri to the free-state of Illinois, he became a free man.


The Supreme Court denied Dred Scott's lawsuit and argument, ruling that Black people were not U.S. citizens and did not have the right to be heard in a court of law.

"A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States"

-- Chief Justice Roger B. Taney


The Court argued that the Founders did not intend for Black people to have U.S. citizenship.

"Yet the men who framed [Declaration of Independence] were great men. . . They understood the meaning of [their words, and they knew that no one in the civilized world interpret them as embracing] the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and doomed to slavery. . .The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and long-established laws, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property."

-- Chief Justice Roger B. Taney