Dred Scott, the Enslaved Man who Sued for His Freedom


Dred Scott was an enslaved man who fought for his freedom, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, filed lawsuits against their enslavers for their freedom, fearing that continued enslavement put their two daughters at risk of being sold to other families and taken away from them. The original lawsuit was filed in Missouri in 1846, and they won! But their enslavers appealed. In 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court overruled the original decision, ruling in favor of the enslavers and blaming the Scotts for filing in Missouri instead of Wisconsin, another “free” territory where Scott’s enslavers lived with the Scott family before moving to Missouri. Scott’s legal fees were paid for by the family of his original enslavers, who had realized that enslaving other humans was wrong.

Dred Scott and his wife appealed again. This time, the appeal went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. In 1857 final ruling of 7-2, the United States Supreme Court ruled that African-Americans were unable to become citizens of the United States and granting Scott his freedom would be stealing private property from Scott’s enslavers. Scott and his family were freed by his enslavers later that same year, and Dred Scott passed away a free man in 1858.

The Dred Scott vs Sandford U.S. Supreme Court ruling would inspire the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which officially freed enslaved people in the Southern states.