What is a summary of the decision in the Dred Scott case?


Quick Answer

The majority decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which took place in 1857, dismissed the case of the plaintiff, Scott, by finding that, as an African-American and a slave, he was not a citizen of the United States and therefore had no standing to bring a civil suit in the federal courts. The decision overturned the Missouri Compromise by denying Congress the right to ban slavery in territories.

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Full Answer

What came to be known as the Dred Scott decision radically altered the political landscape of pre-Civil War America. The fragile compromise of 1830, under which Congress divided new states evenly between slave and free territories, was ruled unconstitutional. Additionally, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment was invoked to prohibit the automatic emancipation of slaves who were brought into free states or onto federal lands.

Dred Scott's case was dismissed for lack of standing, on the grounds that persons of African descent had no legitimate claim to the rights or benefits of U.S. citizenship and therefore could not sue their owners in court. The decision outraged abolitionists and terrified fugitive slaves, who now had cause to believe they would be re-enslaved and deported to their home states. Six years after the court rendered the decision, the Emancipation Proclamation rendered the case's key provisions moot, and the decision was eventually overturned completely by the 13th and 14th Amendments, which extended equal protection to all persons legally residing in the United States.

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