In 1847, Dred Scott, a former slave, beginning suing Missouri courts for his freedom. Dred Scott was born in the early 1800s in Virginia to the owner Pete Blow. Scott and his owner traveled to many different states but in 1830 they moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Blow died two years shortly after arriving, so Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson.Emerson took Scott to Illinois, a free state, where Scott lived until he traveled to Louisiana. Emerson died in 1843, which gave Scott to his widow, who refused to let Scott buy his wife and his freedom from her. Dred Scott believe his stay in Illinois, subsequently gave him a standing to make a claim for his freedom.
On June of 1847, Scott went to trial but lost on because he couldn't prove that he and Harriet, his wife, were owned by Emerson's widow. The next year the Missouri Supreme Court decided that case should be retried so in an 1850 retrial, the the St Louis circuit court ruled that Scott and his family were free. Missouri Supreme Court later stepped in again, reversing the decision of the lower court. Dred Scott's lawyers then took his case to a federal court, the United States Circuit Court. The Circuit Court upheld the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court. Scott appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court.
Scott argued that his owner illegally moved him from state to state which he believed gave him his freedom. Scott also claimed damages against Sanford's brother, John F.A. Sanford for his alleged physical abuse against him. Scott’s lawyers used an argument based on the fact the defendant, Sanford and the plaintiff were from different states, shifting the focus of the case to whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction and whether or not Scott was a citizen of the United States. In a 7–2 decision, the court was read in March of 1857 by Chief Justice Roger B. who wrote the "majority opinion" for the court. It stated that Scott was black, and was not a citizen which therefore had no right to sue. The decision also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820, legislation which restricted slavery in certain territories, unconstitutional.