DRED SCOTT DECISION Dred Scott was a Missouri black slave whose master had taken him from Missouri, a slave state, to Illinois and later into Wisconsin Territory, which was part of the Louisiana Purchase. In accordance with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Illinois was a free state, while the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had declared that the northern portion of the Louisiana Territory was likewise free of slavery. Upon his return to Missouri, Scott sued for his freedom in the state courts. His argument was that residence on free soil had automatically liberated him. The Missouri Supreme Court, however, ruled that temporary residence in free territory did not make a slave free. With the help of friendly lawyers and a number of white abolitionist supporters, Scott appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court.
In one of the most significant and controversial rulings of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court declared that Scott was not a citizen of Missouri or of the United States and could not, therefore, sue in a federal court. Moreover, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney asserted that African Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect," and "that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not" [italics added] were entitled to the benefits and privileges of American citizenship. Aside from this official denial of legal standing to American blacks, the Court went on to rule that the previous decision of the Missouri Supreme Court was conclusive; that Scott's residence in free territory had not conferred freedom upon him; and that the Missouri Compromise itself was unconstitutional since it violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, Taney asserted that "an Act of Congress which deprives a person ... of his liberty or property merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular Territory . . . could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law."