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Dred Scott Case

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Slaves were rendered property and forced to endure harsh labor against their will with their owner trying to move them thousands of miles into barren western lands. In the early 1800s, slavery remained an important part of the American lifestyle. Working on plantations in the south and under restrictions from a young government, African American rights were mostly nonexistent, yet they were often violated and abused. Subject to white rule and abuse, most slaves were hopeless and rendered property.

Dred Scott, a slave in 1857, challenged this stereotype, taking his master to the Supreme Court in opposition to his master forcing him to travel westward as a slave to work there. By presenting his legal case, Dred Scott attempted to gain his freedom through the court. This court case and its ruling had many effects on the United States economy, civil rights for African Americans and women, and strengthened political tension and hatred between the North and South in the early United States and its people.

Dred Scott was a slave born into slavery in 1795 in Southhampton County, Virginia. His slave master moved around, keeping Scott in tow, and they settled in Missouri in 1830. Moving westward yet remaining in the south, Scott was kept as a slave for many years. When his first slave owner fell ill and died, Scott was sold to a post-army surgeon named John Emerson. With Emerson, he was forced to move to Illinois, which was a free state at the time, but still remained a slave. After about two and a half years, Emerson and Scott moved to the Wisconsin Territory. While living in the Wisconsin Territory, Scott wed Harriet Robinson. Under the Missouri Compromise, this territory was free, yet Scott did not attempt to gain his freedom, so historians infer that he was happy with his situation at the time. In 1843, Mr. Emerson died and Dred attempted to pay Mrs. Emerson for his and his wife’s freedom, but she declined (Urofsky, 2019).

When his request was denied, Scott began his attempt at winning his freedom through the Supreme Court. Scott argued that since he had resided in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin, that he should be granted his freedom and be a free man. In 1847, his file for freedom became official and the Supreme Court justices started to review it. Over ten years, the case was constantly reviewed and denied and repealed. Despite many abolitionist lawyers’ efforts, the case remained under review. Finally, the court decided to decline Scott’s request, ruling that Scott and all African people would never be U.S. citizens or free and had no power to challenge a master and the Supreme Court (History.com Editors, 2009).

As Scott’s request was denied, a series of reactions followed. The court’s ruling meant that Africans would have no power to oppose their masters and therefore that slavery would spread westward. A major issue between the north and south leading up to the Civil War was the debate over whether or not slavery should be allowed to expand westward. Since the Court denied Scott, it showed the north that the south was being granted its wish regarding westward expansion and slavery, and the conflict between the north and south was dramatically strengthened. Creating further political tension between citizens in the north and south regarding the rights African Americans should hold, the Civil War was looming (History.com Editors, 2009).

Scott’s case inspired later social movements, particularly the women’s rights movement. Although this case was most likely not the sole cause of the Civil War, it certainly played a prominent role in sparking it. During the Civil War, women were important to both sides. Women took care of homes and fed families while their spouses served in the war, as well as sometimes disguising themselves to serve the Confederacy and Union Armies. Also, women were nurses to soldiers during the war, and about 3,000 women served in the war as nurses on war sites. (“Civil War Activism”).

Some women took on the role of messengers, helping communication between an army to allow for supplies and soldiers to be spread around evenly and safely. As the Civil War came to a close in 1865, men began to recognize the strength women possessed, and the women started to realize that they wanted more rights than they had – and that they had the strength and power to gain this if they were unified. Women began to seriously advocate for their rights and protest unfair working conditions, and the 19th amendment was amended into the Constitution in 1920, approving women’s suffrage forever changing the social status of many Americans (“Virginia Minor and Women’s Right to Vote”).

Economically, the Dred Scott case had many effects on the United States. Since the Confederate Army lost the Civil War, slavery was abolished throughout America. As a result, the southern economy faltered, since it was mostly dependent on slavery and plantations for providing goods. The south struggled with the adjustment from slave labor to paid labor, but remained primarily agricultural. Also, most plantations had been abandoned by men serving in the war, so there were poor crops and much wasted soil to attend to before crops could be sold or marketed. Although the war was costly for both sides, North and South, the north recovered more rapidly than did the south. After the war, the North’s economy boomed, and railroads opened commerce and markets in western lands, and factories thrived (Stackpath).

Dred Scott, one man born into slavery, and his case against the Supreme Court led to many events in the young United States. The denial of Scott’s case by the racist Court at the time enraged the north that was already in conflict with the south, adding to the impending Civil War causes. His case inspired the women’s rights movement, leading the way for women’s suffrage approval in the early 1900s. The north and south were both devastated by the war and many lives were lost, but the nation’s economy eventually recovered and the people grew unified and stronger after the war. Scott’s case was influential in the ways of being apart of many causes to the Civil War, and important in regards to economic, political, and social changes in the United States.

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