Laws & Courts
This site is, it tells us, no longer being updated and possibly soon to expire. Still, while its here, it lists key federal laws and legal judgements reflection the legal position of slaves, from the constitution to Dred Scott and all the less well-known pieces of legislation and rulings surrounding them.
Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860 contains just over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States. The documents, most from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance.
How did slavery assume a clearly racial dimension? One place to start exploring that complex question is to examine the laws that codified freedom, criminality, indentured servitude and slavery in the period that slavery began to entrench itself in America.
In 1834, slave Dred Scott was purchased in Missouri and then brought to Illinois, a free (non-slave) state. His owner and he later moved to present-day Minnesota where slavery had been recently prohibited, and then back to Missouri. When his owner died, Scott sued the widow to whom he was left, claiming he was no longer a slave because he had become free after living in a free state. At a time when the country was in deep conflict over slavery, the Supreme Court decided that Dred Scott was not a “citizen of the state” so they had no jurisdiction in the matter, but the majority opinion also stated that he was not a free man. This site takes you through the arguments and issues raised by the case that further polarised opinion over slavery.
Washington University in Missourri has constructed this website containing over 400 documents exploring Dred Scott's legal battles. A site for people wanting to explore the deeper history of the case.