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Conservation of the Dred Scott Papers

Dred Scott Paper

Dred Scott petitioned the St. Louis Circuit Court for his freedom in April 1846. Although he briefly won freedom on the basis of his former residence in Illinois and Wisconsin territory, appeals to the Missouri Supreme Court by his owner Irene Emerson returned him to slavery in 1852. His advocates refused to accept the decision as final.

In 1854, a new freedom suit was filed in the United States Circuit Court in St. Louis, but a federal jury upheld the Missouri ruling. Dred Scott appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court. By now the case had moved from being a routine freedom suit to a case of enormous importance because of the national debate over the fate of slavery in the western territories acquired from Mexico.

On March 6, 1857, after eleven years of litigation, the United States Supreme Court denied Dred Scott his freedom, claiming that neither free blacks nor slaves had rights in the United States and Congress had no right to prevent the spread of slavery. The inflammatory pro-slavery decision proved one of the most controversial ever made by the United States Supreme Court. The Dred Scott case had brought the country to the brink of civil war.