This federal law appeared to northerners to be further proof of a “Slave Power” conspiracy and elite slaveholders’ disproportionate influence over U.S. domestic policy. Northerners also resented being compelled to serve as de facto slave-catchers, as the law punished people not only for helping escaped enslaved people, but also for failing to aid in efforts to return them. Finally, the law rankled many northerners for the hypocrisy that it exposed, given southerners’ arguments in favor of states’ rights and against the federal government’s meddling in their affairs.
The Supreme Court decided that Dred Scott had not earned freedom by virtue of having lived in a free state; thus, Scott and his family would remain enslaved. More broadly, the Court ruled that Black people could never be citizens of the United States and that Congress had no authority to stop or limit the spread of slavery into American territories.