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PHOTO ESSAY

Dred Scott v. Sandford

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Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, c. 1860.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

On 6 March 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (above) delivered his opinion to a crowd of journalists. The court had ruled 7 to 2 against Dred Scott. The Dred Scott decision was highly contentious and had multiple ramifications. Foremost, at an individual level, it retracted the freedom that Scott had won in earlier cases. Secondly, it stated that black people could not be citizens of the United States. It did not matter if they were free or not—their African ancestry systematically barred them from both state and U.S. citizenship. Finally, the court decided that Congress did not have the power to decide if territories would outlaw slavery and thus deemed the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. A Supreme Court decision overturned a major federal law for the first time.

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