Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 as a slave in Maryland. He escaped from slavery in 1838. He ran first to New York and later moved to Massachusetts. Douglass did not have any formal education. He taught himself how to read and write. He was a powerful speaker, and in 1841, he spoke at a meeting sponsored by the abolitionists. His looks and is ability to speak well held his audiences’ attention incredibly well. Douglass was soon a famous speaker in the anti-slavery movement. In 1845, he spoke in England to a sympathetic audience and enlisted their support for the abolition of slavery in America. Many people could not believe he was a former slave because he was such an excellent speaker.


Upon his return from England, he became the leading African-American spokesperson in the anti-slavery movement. He began working for the Underground Railroad, assisting many slaves to escape to the North and then to Canada. In order to be heard by more people, he published a newspaper called The North Star. It soon became the most influential paper in the African-American community. Douglass also helped recruit African-American men to fight in the Civil War for the North. He served his country as Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, Marshall and Recorder for the Deeds of the District of Columbia, and Minister of the U.S.A. in Haiti. He also wrote three autobiographies during his life.

Dred Scott

Dred Scott was born into slavery in the early 1800’s. In 1830, Dred and his master, Peter Blow, settled in Missouri. Soon after, Dred was sold to a U.S. army doctor named John Emerson. Scott lived with Dr. Emerson in Missouri until 1834. Then they moved to Fort Armstrong in Illinois. Dr. Emerson was not happy there and requested a transfer. The transfer was accepted and they moved to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin. At the time, Wisconsin was not yet a state and was largely unsettled. After a year in Wisconsin, Emerson complained of poor health and asked to leave. In 1837, Emerson was transferred to a fort in Louisiana. There he met and married Eliza Sanford. Soon after, Dr. Emerson, his wife, and Dred Scott returned to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin. In 1842, Dr. Emerson finally decided to settle in St. Louis, and he died there in 1843. In his will, he left Dred and Dred’s wife Harriet to his wife Eliza.
Almost three years later, in 1846, Dred and Harriet petitioned a Missouri court for their freedom. He claimed that they were being held illegally as slaves because he had lived for two years in Illinois, a free state. He also pointed out that he lived in Wisconsin, which banned slavery in the 1820 Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise was a Supreme Court decision which said that any new states entering the Union above the 36 degree north line of latitude would be free states, and new states entering the Union below that line would be slave states. This was to settle arguments about what the status would be of new states being added to the United States.

Dred’s trial began in 1847. In 1850, after more than two years of arguments, the jury awarded them their freedom. Mrs. Emerson appealed the decision, and the case was heard again in 1852. Judge William Scott of the Missouri Supreme Court turned over the lower court’s decision, and ruled in favor of Eliza Emerson.

Meanwhile, Roswell M. Field, a Vermonter who hoped to use Dred’s case to attack the laws of slavery, contacted Dred. However, Eliza Emerson no longer owned Dred. She had given him to her brother John Sanford who lived in New York. Roswell Field told Dred to sue Sanford because New York was a free state. Cases between citizens of different states were heard in the U.S. Federal Courts. In 1853, Dred filed in the U.S. Federal Court, but his trial was unsuccessful. They ruled that Dred was still a slave under Missouri law.
Dred’s last chance was with the Supreme Court of the United States – the highest court in the land. The case began in 1856. In 1857, Chief Justice Taney gave his decision that Dred Scott was not free, he was not a citizen, and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Another judge, Justice Curtis, disagreed, and thought Dred was a citizen and should be free. However, Justice Taney had more support. By ruling that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, Justice Taney was saying that all new states could be slave states. The Southern slave owners were thrilled, but the Northerners were outraged.

In May 1858, Taylor Blow, a descendant of Dred’s original owner, Peter Blow, took possession of Dred Scott and his family and set them free. Dred was only able to enjoy his freedom for a short time. He died on September 17, 1858.

The Underground Railroad