For African Americans legal slavery clearly marked the most profound denial of their rights as citizens and human beings. Despite bans on slavery in the northern states, the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 required that runaway slaves be returned to their masters—clearly asserting that white men’s property rights superseded the God- given right to individual liberty set out by Thomas Jefferson in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. Attempts by African Americans to sue for their freedom in the . courts achieved mixed results in the first half of the 19th century. But the 1857 Dred Scott decision made it the law of the land that—as . Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney put it—African Americans born into slavery were not entitled to sue for their freedom because they were not citizens of the United States. They were first and foremost the property of citizens.