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The Old Courthouse in Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, where the state heard Dred Scott's case. [Photo by Alexander Salopek, March 2023]

The Old Courthouse of the Dred Scott Decision

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The following is a guest post by Alexander Salopek, a collection development specialist in the Collection Services Division of the Law Library of Congress. He previously wrote posts on Fred Korematsu’s Drive for Justice, Fred Korematsu Winning Justice, What a Difference 17 Years Made, and Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

In Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri, one would be surprised to find another fascinating historic building in addition to Eero Saarinen’s stunning midcentury modern masterpiece of the Arch, but there is a historic courthouse in the park as well. The Old Courthouse is famed for being the site where Dred Scott first filed suit for his freedom which ultimately became known as the Dred Scott decision. The decision is infamously known for its controversy and is regarded as one of the stepping stones to the Civil War in the United States. Dred Scott, who had lived in a free territory for some time (Illinois and then what we know now as Minnesota) filed suit in state court in Missouri. In his second trial, he was granted his freedom by the state court, which was overturned by the Missouri State Supreme Court in a pro-slavery decision. Ultimately this case made it to the Supreme Court of the United States. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, Chief Justice Roger Taney found that Dred Scott had no standing to sue and declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. Abraham Lincoln was highly critical of the decision leading up to his election as President of the United States. Many scholars believe the case hastened the start of the Civil War. The Court’s decision was superseded by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. This courthouse is also where Louis Brandeis was sworn in to practice law in 1878. For more information on this unique building, see our post from 2017 here.

                 Statue of Dred Scott and Harriet Robinson Scott, St. Louis Missouri [photo by Alexander Salopek, March 2023]

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