Sued for his freedom after his master took him into territory where slavery was illegal. The Supreme Court ruled that Negro slaves were not citizens. This ruling helped to increase the divide between the North and South prior to the war. The name Dred Scott would, in the last few years of peace before Civil War, become a rallying cry for Northern abolitionists. Scott, a Virginia-born slave, was owned by Dr. John Emerson, an army doctor. In his career as an army doctor, Emerson was sometimes stationed in free territories and states, including Illinois, where the Missouri Compromise excluded human bondage. After the death of Dr. Emerson, Dred Scott sued his widow for his freedom on the ground that he was already a free man because he had lived in a free state. The Missouri Supreme Court, however, said no, he was still a slave. He sued again, this time in a Federal court. The case made its way through the appellate system and finally landed on the docket of the United States Supreme Court. Like the Missouri Supreme Court, the U. S. Supreme Court said that just because Dred Scott had lived in a free state that did not mean he was a free person. He was to remain a slave.
The decision was a hard blow against abolitionists and a triumphant victory for slave owners. Now, according to the Supreme Court, slaveholders could take their slaves with them any where with the United States they chose without the slaves automatically earning their freedom. It was a decision that may have hastened Civil War. Scott died in 1858, never living free.