Inducted - Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Where is Dred Scott in the Hall of Famous Missourians?
While living in the state of Missouri, Dred Scott made history by initiating a legal battle in an attempt to gain his freedom. Born a slave in 1795 in Virginia, Scott later lived in two free states while serving his owner, Dr. John Emerson. It was while in Missouri that Scott sued for his freedom under a Missouri statute that allowed any person, black or white, to sue if held in wrongful imprisonment. With the help of two St. Louis Attorneys, Scott based his case on the fact he had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin. Combined with Missouri’s longstanding "once free, always free" judicial standard in determining freedom suits, Scott’s attorneys felt he had a strong case. While Scott lost his first trial on a technicality, a retrial in 1850 resulted in a ruling from the St Louis Circuit Court that Scott and his family were free. Scott’s victory was short-lived as just two years later the Missouri Supreme Court stepped in and reversed the decision of the lower court. Scott refused to give up and took his case to the United States Circuit Court, which ultimately upheld the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court. From there, Scott’s only remaining option was to take his case to the United States Supreme Court. In 1857, the court ruled against Scott with a majority opinion that stated all African Americans were not United States citizens who did not have the right to bring suit in a federal court. The court also ruled Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in any of the federal territories and declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to be unconstitutional. The decision outraged much of the population and accelerated the events that would inevitably lead to Civil War. While Scott was denied his freedom by the courts, he was emancipated shortly after the Supreme Court decision. He lived out his days as a free man while working as a porter at Barnum’s Hotel in St. Louis.