Dred Scott v. Sandford

Photo Essay

Poster advertising a meeting to discuss the Dred Scott case, 1857. Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library.

The United States Supreme Court has a long history of court cases concerning issues of race. Cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Loving v. Virginia (1967) all brought the intersections of race and the law to a nation-wide audience. In 1857 another landmark case concerning race was brought before the Supreme Court. In the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, Dred Scott, a man born into slavery, sued his owner for his freedom based on the fact that he had lived in U.S. territories where slavery was outlawed. It was not the first time a slave tried to obtain emancipation through the legal system, but Dred Scott captured the attention of the nation. The case encapsulated some of the major concerns of an expanding and rupturing country—should slavery be legal? How would new states handle the slavery issue? In a controversial decision the court ruled against Scott by arguing that as a man with African ancestry he was not entitled to state or federal citizenship. The current Focus On article examines the controversial Dred Scott case—a case in which the struggle for emancipation helped push the country into a civil war.

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The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about Dred Scott, his Supreme Court case, and the mounting tensions around the issue of slavery that eventually led to the Civil War. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

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