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The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford set aside the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and the Illinois state constitution, in order to permit the holding of slaves in formerly free soil of the territories above the northern boundary of Missouri. The case exacerbated political tensions on the slavery issue and moved the United States closer to civil war.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney ran over 150 pages. There were two dissenting opinions, including this one by associate justice John McLean. It draws upon a long tradition of British common law, Lord Mansfield's decision in the James Somersett case, international law, federal court cases, and state court decisions to argue that the Court's decision in the case is in error.