Describe the legal status of free blacks in 1850 and the growing divide over slavery.

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The legal status of free blacks during the 1850s, simply put, was absent. In fact, the word "free" only goes as far as to say that these people were not considered slaves. Free blacks throughout the entire country, not just the North, did not have legal citizenship. In 1857, the Dred Scott decision stated that black people could not be considered citizens. This meant they had no legal rights that were given in the Constitution. One side effect of this decision was that free blacks could not sue in court. They could not be educated, because they had no right to be. They were barred from most churches, as well. This all came from the decision that they were not considered citizens.

Because they were denied citizenship, they also did not possess the right to vote. Essentially, what happened after Dred Scott was that free blacks were pinned in an area of questionable legal status. Native Americans were granted more legal rights in this situation because the opinion was that they could become "naturalized," while African Americans could not. So, although the word "free" is used here, it is important to consider the legal context of the time before the Civil War.

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