History of slavery in Minnesota

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Slavery has been forbidden in the state of Minnesota since that state's admission to the Union in 1858. The second section of the first Article of the state's constitution, drafted in 1857, provides that:

There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the State otherwise there is the punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.[1]

Colonial period[edit]

During early European exploration, the area of present-day Minnesota was part of New France and, as such, was governed by its slavery laws.

United States territory[edit]

The first legislation against slavery was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which forbade slavery in the Northwest Territory, which included those parts of Minnesota that are east of the Mississippi. However, territorial laws and practices allowed human bondage to continue in various forms. Territorial governors Arthur St. Clair and Charles Willing Byrd supported slavery and did not enforce the ordinance.[2]

Dred Scott[edit]

Dred Scott and his wife Harriet Scott were purchased as slaves in Missouri by an army officer. In 1837 their master took them with him to Fort Snelling in what later became Minnesota but was then a part of the Wisconsin Territory . In 1857, the year before Minnesota became a state, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Scott v. Sanford that the Scotts' residence in Minnesota did not make them free, and they still had the status of slaves after they returned to Missouri.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Constitution of the State of Minnesota" (PDF). Mnhs.org. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  2. ^ Lehman, Christopher P. (2011). Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1787–1865: A History of Human Bondage in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. p. 27. ISBN 978-0786458721.