What Is the Significance of Dred Scott Vs Sanford?

The Dred Scott vs. Sanford case is credited with driving the nation closer to civil war and the eventual abolishment of slavery, as PBS explains. The 1857 ruling further polarized abolitionists and proponents of slavery by determining that black Americans had no right to sue in federal court because they couldn't obtain citizenship whether or not they became free. Former slave owner, Chief Justice Roger Taney, oversaw the decision.

In 1846, Dred Scott tried to sue Eliza Irene Sanford, the wife of his former master, after she refused to let him buy his and his wife's freedom, as PBS notes. Scott's case was argued on grounds that his family had previously resided in territory designated as free by the Missouri Compromise. A Missouri court ruled in Scott's favor in 1850, but Eliza Sanford's brother, John Sanford, assumed control of her affairs and appealed the decision.

The state Supreme Court overturned the original ruling, driving Scott to countersue for damages in a federal circuit court. However, Scott was forced to appeal to the federal Supreme Court when his previous lawsuit was dismissed on grounds that he was legally a slave in Missouri.

The Supreme Court ruling empowered slave owners by protecting their rights to own slaves as property and invalidating any Congressional power to outlaw slavery in U.S. territories, according to the Independence Hall Association. The case was drawn out for 11 years due to conflicting rulings. The Supreme Court of the day included five former slave owners, a fact which led many northerners to reject the court's authority.