This portrait of Dred Scott was painted by German-born St. Louis artist Louis Schultze (c. 1820 – 6 February 1901). The painting was commissioned by the Missouri Historical Society in 1888 as part of a series of portraits of prominent St. Louis residents and was paid for by African American citizens of the city. Schultze painted the portrait sometime before 1897 and based it on a daguerreotype of Scott taken by John G. Fitzgibbon in St. Louis in 1857.
In 1847, Dred Scott sued for his freedom, and that of his wife and two daughters, in the Missouri circuit courts, arguing his former owner held him illegally at military bases in the free state of Illinois and Wisconsin Territory. The US Congress banned slavery in both places in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the 1820 Missouri Compromise. After ten years of appeals and court reversals, the case was finally brought before the United States Supreme Court. On March 6, 1857, the Court decided the Scotts’ fate when it ruled against their freedom, stating they had no right to sue in state or federal court because their ancestors were brought to America from Africa and sold as slaves, and, therefore, they were not legally “citizens” of either the United States or Missouri. The decision also stipulated that it was not constitutional for Congress to pass legislation that restricted people’s rights to property, including claims to human “property”, declaring invalid any laws that restricted them from transporting enslaved people into U.S territories or free states. The Dred Scott ruling was an important episode in the political conflict that led to the American Civil War.
Creator: Louis Schultze
Subject: African Americans; Slavery; Art
Collection Name: African American Object Collection
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
Accession Number: 1897-009-0001
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Region: Northwest, St. Louis Metro