[ Audio Transcript ]
Panel 5 - Missouri Before the War
- Freedom in a Slave Society, Dred and Harriet Scott -
Slaves in Missouri were sometimes freed by their masters. Often, this freedom came with stipulations; for example, some slaves were required to purchase their freedom from their masters. One such slave, a woman named Elizabeth Keckley was able to buy freedom for herself and her son for the price of $1,200. She went on to work as a successful seamstress in Washington, D.C., for prominent women like Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis.
Freed slaves residing in Missouri had to carry free licenses like the one featured on this panel to prove they had been emancipated. These were precious documents; a slave who lost these papers or had them stolen was vulnerable to re-enslavement.
The petition for freedom shown on this panel is from the Dred Scott Case, a landmark Supreme Court case involving two Missouri residents, Dred and Harriet Scott. The Scotts had previously resided in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving to Missouri. Missouri courts traditionally abided by the doctrine "Once free, always free." On this basis, the Scotts sued for their freedom. Missouri courts agreed that the Scotts should be free, but in March of 1857 the Supreme Court reversed the decision. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney declared that no African American could ever be a citizen of the United States, and that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, thus permitting slavery in all the territories. This decision was one of the most controversial in the history of the Supreme Court. Dred Scott refused to be discouraged by the court's attitude, commenting "My hopes were never brighter than now." Scott knew that the nationwide attention his case had received might one day lead toward abolition and freedom for all slaves. Dred Scott was freed by new owners nine months before his death on September 17, 1858.
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