Dred Scott was born around 1795 in Virginia. The exact date of his birth is unknown because he was born a slave. As a child, Scott belonged to Peter Blow, who was a farm owner. When the farm turned unproductive Blow moved his family and 6 slaves to St. Louis, Missouri. In St. Louis, Blow purchased a boarding house and no longer needed Dred, so he rented him to ship owners who needed deckhands on their river boats that traveled the Mississippi River. Then in 1832, Blow became very ill and was forced to quit the boarding house business.
At this time he sold Dred Scott to an army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson for $500. Soon after purchasing Dred Scott, Dr. Emerson was reassigned to Fort Armstrong, Illinois, and he took Dred Scott with him. However, at this time Illinois was a free state, but the laws were unclear about what happened when a master brought a slave into a free state. At the time, it was accepted that a slave owner could travel with their slaves in free states, but if they wanted to become permanent residents they would have to free their slaves. A short time later, Dr. Emerson was transferred to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, which did not allow slavery. At Fort Snelling, Dr. Emerson purchased a female slave named Harriet Robinson. Harriet and Dred fell in love. At the time slaves were not permitted to marry. They had 4 children, but only 2 lived until adulthood. In 1837, Dr. Emerson married and they all moved to Ft. Jesup, Louisianna, a slave state. Then when Dr. Emerson died in 1843, he willed Dred Scott to his widow.
Dred Scott tried to purchase his freedom from Mrs. Emerson. However, Mrs. Emerson was against freeing him. Then on April 6, 1846, Dred Scott surprised everyone when he filed suit against the widow Emerson. He sued on the grounds that he had spent long amount of time in free states and as a result he should be given his freedom. A few days later a Missouri circuit judge ruled in Dred Scott's favor. However, Mrs. Emerson appealed the decision to the state supreme court. Subsequently, the supreme court ruled in her favor in 1852. Mrs. Emerson immediately sold Dred to her brother, John Sanford. Sanford lived in New York, but traveled frequently to St. Louis on business. At this time, Dred Scott was allowed to take his case to the United States Supreme Court because the case now involved 2 states.
The case is known as Dred Scott v. Sanford, and it would not be heard by the Supreme Court until February of 1856. The court at this time was composed of 7 justices that had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents, and five who were from families that owned slaves themselves. Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the decision, on a vote of 7 to 2. He stated that Scott was private property and that he could be taken to as well as removed from states or territories regardless of their slavery laws. Taney continued by claiming that Dred Scott was not a citizen. He ruled that Dred Scott as a slave did not have the right to sue. Taney continued by declaring that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery north of 38 degrees 30 minutes (Ohio River), to be unconstitutional. He cited the 5th Amendment in their decision, stating that the United States Constitution prohibits Congress from depriving persons of their property without due process of the law. At this time the sons of Peter Blow came to Dred Scott's aid. They had known each other since childhood. The Blows purchased both Dred Scott and his wife’s freedom. Sadly, Dred Scott would die 9 months later.