Dred Scott was a slave to John Emerson, an army surgeon. During his career, Emerson moved from Missouri (a ‘slave’ state) to Illinois and Wisconsin Territory (both ‘free’), accompanied on his travels by Scott and, in due course, by Scott’s wife and child. Back in Missouri, Emerson died, and Scott filed suit against Emerson’s widow, in Missouri State court, seeking his and his family’s freedom based on their past residence in ‘free’ states and territories. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where Scott’s petition was rejected. But it was the framing of the ruling that would prove incendiary. It affirmed the right of slave owners to take their chattels into free territories, asserting that Scott was not a citizen, therefore not entitled to sue, and overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820’s restrictions on slavery in western territories. It would prove a catalyst for the coming war.
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