Billeder på siden

error was brought from that judgment to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, where the judgment was, pro forma, affirmed. From this latter judgment the present writ of error has been brought to this Court.”

The question in this case was simply this, — whether this Act of Pennsylvania was or was not void as being in contravention of the following provision in the Constitution of the United States: “No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

The judgment in this case was, - that Congress under the Constitution had exclusive power to legislate in respect to fugitive slaves ; that the States had no power to legislate on the subject, either in violation of the provisions of the Constitution or in furtherance and extension of it; that, therefore, the Act of Pennsylvania was unconstitutional and void ; that the United States could not oblige the States to carry out and enforce its laws through their magistrates, but must depend on its own proper Courts and officers; that the right of the owner to recapture his slave wherever he may be, is given him by the Constitution without restriction, and that, therefore, he may take him wherever he finds him, provided he can do it without illegal violence or breach of the peace; but if he cannot, he is bound to resort to the manner and means specified in the Act of Congress, passed in furtherance of the Constitutional clause referring to fugitive slaves.

every State.

The reasoning, by which this judgment was established, was to the following effect :- This article in the Constitution, as it is well known historically, was the result of a compromise, and formed a fundamental condition of the adoption of the Constitution by the Slave States. It is absolute and unqualified in its terms. It was an agreement by all the States, free and slave-holding, to surrender all their special rights and regulations over the subject, and to secure to every slave owner the right to retake his slave in

It is to be interpreted so as consistently with the words fully and completely to effectuate its whole objects. “ If by one mode of interpretation the right must become shadowy and unsubstantial, and without any remedial power adequate to the end, and by another mode it will attain its manifest purpose, it would seem, upon principles of reasoning which are irresistible, that the latter ought to prevail. No court of justice can be authorized so to construe any clause of the Constitution as to defeat its ovbious ends, when another construction, equally accordant with the words and the sense thereof, will enforce and protect them.”

This clause in the Constitution is of two parts. First, it confers an absolute right without qualification or restriction. “No person, &c. shall in consequence of any (State) law or regulation be discharged.” Every State law or regulation, therefore, which abridges this right, or operates to discharge the slave by interruptions, or limits the right of the owner to the immediate possession of his slave, violates the guaranty in the Constitution.

This clause does not qualify the right of the owner to

his slave who has escaped from the State, but extends the rights which he has in his own State over his fugitive slave to every other State. Consequently, the incidents to such rights attach to it equally in all the States. As, therefore, it is universally acknowledged in the slave-holding State, that a master has a right to seize and recapture his slave there, he has it also in all other States. The only question, then, is, how may he retake his slave by Common Law.

On this point, Blackstone lays down the following doctrine as unquestioned :

“Recaption or reprisal is another species of remedy by the mere act of the party injured. This happens when any one hath deprived another of his property in goods or chattels personal, or wrongfully detains one's wife, child, or servant ; in which case the owner of the goods, and the husband, parent, or master, may lawfully claim and retake them wherever he happens to find them, so it be not in a riotous manner, or attended with a breach of the peace.”

“On this ground," the opinion continues,

we have not the slightest hesitation in holding, that under and in virtue of the Constitution, the owner of a slave is clothed with entire authority, in every State in the Union, to seize and recapture his slave whenever he can do it without any breach of the peace or any illegal violence. In this sense, and to this extent, this clause of the Constitution may properly be said to execute itself, and to require no aid from legislation, state or national.”

Thus far the clause has contemplated that the owner can peaceably retake and seize his slave in like manner as other“ property.” But this may not always happen.

[blocks in formation]

His slave may be concealed or forcibly withheld. And the local law of the State may be inadequate to enable him to enforce legal process in its Courts, or to repossess himself of the slave, or may prohibit its Courts from any jurisdiction in the premises, and therefore the clause proceeds to state that the slave “shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such labor or service is due,” in like manner as the law provides that the owner shall have legal process to recover property withheld from him, which he cannot peaceably retake.

But this clause, although it confers the right to make a claim, and the duty to deliver up the slave, does not define the form and mode in which such claim shall be made; and the question to whom the claim shall be made-how it shall be enforced to whom the slave shall be delivered — what evidence shall be necessarily conclusive -- and what Court the action shall be brought in,—are questions which are not answered, and which demand to be defined by legislation.

Now this clause is in the national Constitution, and is a national guaranty. It is not in a State Constitution ; it does not make requisition upon any State functionaries, or any State action, to carry its provisions into effect. “The States cannot, therefore, be compelled to enforce them. It might well be deemed an unconstitutional exercise of the power of interpretation to insist that the States are bound to provide means to carry into effect the duties of the national government, nowhere delegated or intrusted to them by the Constitution. On the contrary, the natural, if not the necessary conclusion is, that the national government, in the absence of all positive provisions to the contrary, is bound, through its

own proper departments, legislative, judicial, or executive, as the case may require, to carry into effect all the rights and duties imposed upon it by the Constitution.”

“ It is plain, that where a claim is made by the owner, out of possession, for the delivery of a slave, it must be made, if at all, against some other person; and inasmuch as the right is a right of property, capable of being recognized and asserted by proceedings before a court of justice, between parties adverse to each other, it constitutes, in the strictest sense, a controversy between the parties, and a case arising under the Constitution' of the United States, within the express delegation of judicial power given by that instrument. Congress, then, may call that power into activity for the very purpose of giving effect to that right; and, if so, then it may prescribe the mode and extent in which it shall be applied, and how, and under what circumstances, the proceedings shall afford a complete protection and guaranty to the right.”

And this has been done. The Act of Congress passed on February 12, 1793, ch. 51, (7,) after providing that fugitives from justice shall be delivered up by the executive authority of the State, upon demand to him, proceeds, in the third section, to provide, that when a person held to service or labor in any of the United States, shall

into any other of the States or Territories, the person to whom such service or labor may be due, his agent or attorney, is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such fugitive from labor, and take him or her before any Judge of the Circuit or District Courts of the United States, residing or being within the State, or before any magistrate of a county, city, or town corporate wherein such seizure and arrest shall be made, and, upon


« ForrigeFortsæt »