Dred Scott was born a slave in Southampton County, Virginia in 1795. Industrious and intelligent, he was employed as a farmhand, stevedore, craftsman, and general handyman. In 1819, his original owner moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and later to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1832 he died, and Scott was sold for $500 to a surgeon in the U.S. Army who took Scott to the free state of Illinois in 1834 and on to Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was banned by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Later the family returned to Missouri, where the doctor died. In 1846, with the help of antislavery lawyers, Scott sued for his freedom. He claimed he should be free because he had once lived on a free soil. Eleven years later, in the midst of growing anger over the slavery issue, the case reached the Supreme Court. .
Since J. F. A. Sanford, was the legal administrator of her property and a resident of New York, the Federal court accepted jurisdiction for the case on the basis of diversity of state citizenship. .
The courts decision electrified the nation. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney said that Dred Scott was still a slave, As a salve, Scott was not a citizen and had no right to bring a lawsuit. Taney could have stopped there but he decided to address the broader issues. Taney wrote that Scott's residence on free soil did not make him free. An enslaved person was property, and the Fifth Amendment prohibits Congress from taking away property without due process of law. Finally Taney wrote that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any territory.
Rather than setting the issue the Supreme Courts decision divided the country even more. Northern Democrats were pleased that the Republicans main issue restricted the spread of slavery had been ruled unconstitutional. Republicans and other antislavery groups were outraged, calling the Dred Scott decision "a wicked and false judgment" and " the greatest crime" ever committed in the nation" courts.