The odds there were not in his favor. Five of the nine justices were from slave-holding families. By this time, nearly a decade had passed since Scott first sought freedom through the courts. Along the way John Sanford of New York claimed he now owned the slaves, for reasons that have never been determined. 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.
The majority opinion stated that because of Dred Scott’s race he was not a citizen and had no right to sue under the Constitution, in March of 1857. Stretching beyond the case of the moment, the court’s decision also invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that had for nearly 40 years placed restrictions on slavery north of the parallel 36 degrees, 30 minutes, in the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Scott’s abolitionist lawyers might have hoped for a landmark decision but not the one they got. The Supreme Court’s ruling galvanized the abolition movement and spurred Abraham Lincoln to publicly speak out against it, the event that led to the resurgence of his personal political career.
The North was angry because people in the north had decided not to allow slavery in their states, and the Dred Scott decision allowed slaves to be brought into their states. Meanwhile, most southerners were happy with the decision because it allowed them to take slaves with them to free states and territories and reinforced the idea that slaves had no rights as U.S. citizens. Dred Scott’s case had caused more trouble between the North and South.