administration of justice, they were rightly accused of a disposition to steal the slaves of the citizens of Virginia, and offering impunity to criminals of every grade; and were it conceded that a being of human substance, form, and image, endowed with faculties, propensities, and passions, common to our race, and having the same ultimate destiny, could, by the force of any human constitution of laws, be converted into a chattel, or a thing, in which another being like himself could have property; and if to all these concessions it was added that a law of this state which in no way interfered with the right of a master, under the constitution and laws of the United States, to institute proceedings in the federal courts and before federal magistrates, to recover a fugitive from service, nor with the proceedings of such tribunals in hearing, examining, and deciding upon, such claims, was unconstitutional; yet after all these concessions, were made, none of which, however, can in any sense be granted, it would still remain to be shown that Virginia has a right to pass an unconstitutional law affecting citizens of New York, because New York had enacted a law alleged to be injurious to her sisterstate. It might even be admitted, as you have erroneously supposėd, that the privilege of trial by jury had not been allowed in courts in this state to fugitives from service from other states, until Virginia had renewed her demand for the surrender of certain fugitives from justice, when in truth the right of trial by jury had always been enjoyed in such cases in this state, and the law to which Virginia objects was only declaratory of that right, and amendatory of the form used on such occasions; and yet it is not perceived that this concession could, in any manner, impair the just objections of this state to the extraordinary measures which Virginia has adopted.

After every one of your respected predecessors protested against the opinions necessarily expressed by me, in a discussion commenced and insisted upon by Virginia, and now after you have substantially informed me that Virginia insisted upon an abandonment of those opinions more than a surrender of the fugitives, I confess it seems somewhat extraordinary that the plain exposition and renewed declaration of those opinions, contained in my former letter, should be pronounced gratuitous.

, The august Congress of statesmen who laid the foundation of the constitution, most emphatically declared that all men were born free and equal and had inalienable rights, inconsistent with every form of slavery. A citizen of Virginia, who was not only the most renowned of the patriots who engaged in the establishment of the constitution, but who is, by the general consent of mankind, acknowledged to have exhibited the most perfect character our nature has ever reached, manumitted all his slaves as an act of conscientious duty. Another, who was second only to Washington in the great number of statesmen that Virginia has given to our country, pleaded the prejudices of birth, education, and association, as an apology for the opinions entertained by his fellow-citizens, that human beings might be the subjects of property, as much as their horses and cattle. When I recall these circumstances, I must be allowed to indulge a belief that I have not so far fallen from the faith of the founders of the constitution as you have been pleased to suppose.

I pray you to accept renewed assurances of my very high respect, and of my earnest concurrence in the desire you so properly express for a speedy adjustment of the differences which it has been our duty to discuss.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant. THE HONORABLE JOHN RUTHERFOORD,

Lieutenant and Acting Governor of Virginia



Albany, November 8, 1841.

} Sır: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 28th of October last, giving me notice that the general assembly of Virginia, on the 13th of March last, passed an act entitled “ An act to prevent the citizens of New York from carrying slaves out of this commonwealth, and to prevent the escape of persons charged with any crime.” The communication is accompanied by a copy of that law, and a report made by a select committee of the house of delegates of the general assembly. I pray you to be satisfied of my belief that the delay of the official notice thus given me, was altogether accidental, and did not arise from any intentional disrespect to the state of New York.

The act contains a provision of postponement until the first day of May next; and a further provision, authorizing the governor to suspend its operation, whenever officially informed that the legislature of New York has repealed a law passed on the 16th of May, 1840, entitled “An act to extend the trial by jury,” and that the executive of New York has, in good faith, consented to comply with the demand of the executive authority of the state of Virginia, for the surrender of Peter Johnson, Edward Smith, and Isaac Gansey, as fugitives from justice.

The tenor of the letters I have had occasion to address to you, and to your respected predecessors, renders it unnecessary for me, at this time, to say more in regard to the requisition upon which Virginia insists, than to inform you that my convictions concerning the unconstitutionality of the requisition, remain unchanged. It of course belongs to the legislature to decide, not only whether the law, against which Virginia objects, ought to be repealed, but also, whether such a repeal, if otherwise proper, could be made in the peculiar circumstances now existing, consistently with a due regard to the dignity and honor of the state. Your communication, with the papers accompanying it, will, therefore, be submitted to the legislature.

Cheerfully deferring to your opinion, that the long correspondence which has taken place between the executive authorities of Virginia and New York may now be brought to a close, without detriment to the public welfare, I shall only notice one of the topics upon which you have been pleased to dwell.

I have deemed it my duty to observe, that under the extraordinary circumstances of the case, and inasmuch as the parties were equal, if a reconciliation were to be effected, it appeared to me that the first advance ought to be made by Virginia. Dissenting from the opinion thus expressed, you ask, after referring to the history of the controversy, “In this state of things, when New York has neither complied with the demands of Virginia, nor offered any redress for the wrongs of which she complains, what sort of advance can she possibly make? Is it expected by your excellency, that she should relinquish her demands, repeal her defensive law, leave her wrongs unredressed, and her rights unprotected !"

You will do me the justice to admit, that from the beginning of this controversy until now, I have been content that this state retained and should continue to retain unvaryingly a pacific attitude toward Virginia, and have cheerfully left the authorities of Virginia to decide upon the relations which that commonwealth should hold toward her sister-state. The proceedings were commenced by Virginia, with a demand, to which I could not accede. I have fully explained, that the law of New York, complained of by Virginia, was passed without any reference whatever to that commonwealth, and without any design to affect its citizens, and that it did not affect any right secured to Virginia or her citizens, by the constitution and laws of the United States. When the executive of Virginia retaliated upon this state, by refusing to deliver a fugitive from justice, in a case of acknowledged obligation, I declared that this state would wait the pleasure of Virginia to recede from the position she had thus assumed. When Virginia appealed to the other members of the American family to espouse her controversy, and make common cause against New York, this state, unwilling to be active in disturbing the general harmony, and confiding in the justice of her sisterstates, neither remonstrated with Virginia, nor defended herself against accusations deemed ungenerous and unjust. I must now add, that since Virginia has been the first and only state, which, since the federation, has, by aggressive legislation, assailed the constitutional sovereignty of this state, New York neither entertains a thought of retaliating such unkindness, nor does she remonstrate, nor even complain. In the same spirit that has continually governed her proceedings, she must decline to suggest to Virginia a form of advance toward that reconciliation, for which this state, unconscious of having committed wrong, or having indulged a sense of injury, is ready, when it shall please Virginia to meet on the basis of equal constitutional rights. Even if Virginia make no advance, this state will be content to leave her citizens to their individual remedies, and will cheerfully wait until the supreme court, the arbiter between the members of the confederacy, shall have had occasion to decide upon the constitutionality of both laws, or until Virginia shall see fit to remove the obstacle she has interposed to an adjustment by the states themselves, of the misunderstanding which both have so much reason to deplore. I do not suggest that Virginia shall relinquish her demands, or repeal 'what she describes as her defensive law, or that she shall leave her supposed wrongs unredressed, or her supposed rights unprotected. I only insist, that while Virginia maintains an aggressive posture, she can not reasonably expect the menaced state to manifest an acquiescence in a proceeding so incongruous with what she deems the relations of the states, as most assuredly she would do, did she consent to discuss, under such circumstances, the original subject of controversy. I trust I may be permitted to add, with perfect deference, that if Virginia had not passed the injurious law which now excludes debate on the original question, she would still have remained in the enjoyment of all the rights, and all the means of redressing wrongs which this state, and every other state, possessed, and all which, in the judgment of New York, the constitution of the United States allows to any state.

I can not retire from this correspondence without making an acknowledgment of the distinguished candor and courtesy with which it has been conducted on your part, and expressing renewed assurances of the very high respect and consideration with which I have the honor to remain, your most obedient servant.


Lieutenant and Acting Governor of Virginia

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