22 October 2008
The Civil War and Reconstruction: Dred Scott
Born around 1800, Scott migrated westward with his master, Peter Blow. They traveled from Scott's home state of Virginia to Alabama and then, in 1830, to St. Louis, Missouri. Two years later Peter Blow died; Scott was soon after bought by army surgeon Dr. John Emerson, who later took Scott to the free state of Illinois. In the spring of 1836, after a stay of two and a half years, Emerson moved to a fort in the Wisconsin Territory, taking Scott along. While there, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by a local justice of the peace. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Emerson.
Scott's longer stay in Illinois, a free state, gave him the legal rights to make a claim for freedom, as did his extended stay in Wisconsin, where slavery was also prohibited. But Scott never made the claim while living in the free lands -- perhaps because he was unaware of his rights at the time, or perhaps because he was content with his master. After two years, the army transferred Emerson to the south: first to St Louis, then to Louisiana. A little over a year later, a recently-married Emerson summoned his slave couple. Instead of staying in the free territory of Wisconsin, or going to the free state of Illinois, the two traveled over a thousand miles, apparently unaccompanied, down the Mississippi River to meet their master. Only after Emerson's death in 1843, after Emerson's widow hired Scott out to an army captain, did Scott seek freedom for himself and his wife. First he offered to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson, then living in St. Louis, for $300. The offer was refused. Scott then sought freedom through the courts.
Scott went to trial in June of 1847, but lost on a technicality, he could not prove that he and Harriet were owned by Emerson's widow. The following year the Missouri Supreme Court decided that case should be...