Missouri Digital Heritage :: Education :: Before Dred Scott :: Glossary

Missouri State Archives
Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri


Glossary of Terms

appeal—to ask the judges of a higher court, such as the Missouri Supreme Court, to review the decision made by a lower court, such as a circuit court

antebellum—in United States history, the period before the Civil War, beginning in the 1830s and lasting until 1860

bill of exceptions—a formal, written request for a new trial in which a person tells the judge the circumstances that call for a new trial

charge of trespass of false imprisonment—a legal document required in Missouri slave freedom suits that lists the charges against a slave master and includes evidence of physical abuse

the Civil War—1861-1865-the war fought in the United States between the northern (Union) states and the southern (Confederate) states over the issues of states' rights and slavery

counsel—a lawyer

defendant—the person charged with breaking the law

expansion—the spread of slavery to new areas of the United States; primarily west of the Mississippi River

false imprisonment—illegally holding someone as a slave or prisoner

free—in territorial and antebellum Missouri history, a black person who was not a slave was considered "free"—therefore, he or she was referred to as a "free black person"

freedom suit—in territorial and antebellum Missouri history, a legal action in which a slave sued for his or her freedom

manumission—when the owner of a slave freed him or her, often done in a will for years of good service

Missouri Compromise (1820)—an Act of Congress passed on March 6, 1820, allowing Maine to enter the Union as a free state and Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state; also stated that slavery would not be allowed in any other lands north of the geographic line known as 36'30° (Missouri's southern border)

Northwest Ordinance (1787)—a regulation that allowed Americans to settle in the lands north of the Ohio River, but did not allow slavery. This area later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin

"once free, always free"—in 1824, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that if a slave was taken to live in a territory or state where slavery was not allowed, at that point the slave became a free person—even if he or she later returned to a slave state, such as Missouri

petition—referred to, in slave freedom suits, as a "petition for freedom"--a document that was the first step in applying for freedom from slavery. It set out the reasons why the petitioner feels he or she should not be held as a slave—usually because of residence in a free territory or state

petitioner—the person who presents a formal, written request for court action

precedent—a decision that sets an example for future decisions in similar cases

pro forma—a formal pattern for people to follow when writing certain legal documents

slavery—holding a person as one's property and forcing them to work as a slave

statehood—when a new state is officially recognized as a member of the United States

statute—a written law enacted by a legislature

territorial—describes the time (1803-1820) that the land which later became the state of Missouri belonged to the United States but was not formally admitted as a state in the Union

wrongful servitude—the act of forcing someone to work as a slave