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JOHN VAN BUREN'S VIEWS.
to swear that he is a slave who has escaped from his owner's service, he cannot require a trial by jury of the issue so raised, although the judge or commissioner before whom the claimant sees fit to bring him may be in league with that claimant to get him out of the protection of the law and into the power of his deadly enemies. And it is specially provided by this act' that
"In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive
be admitted in evidence."
2. It did not even allow him a hearing before a judge; but authorized the captor to take him at once before any commissioner appointed to take depositions, etc., by a Judge of the Federal Courts, who was clothed by this act with plenary power in the premises; on whose rendition and certificate he might be hurried off at once into Slavery, without stay or appeal.
3. Said commissioner was to receive $10 for his services in case he directed the surrender of the alleged fugitive, but only $5 in case he, for any cause, decided against the claimThe act thus, in effect, offered him a bribe to decide against the person charged with owing "service or labor." 8
hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law."
Mr. John Van Buren, in a letter' to a Massachusetts Convention of opponents of this law, while admitting the right to reclaim and the duty of surrendering fugitives from Slavery, condemned the enactment in all its more important features: first, as an assumption by Congress of a duty properly devolving on the States, and to be rightfully executed aries. The demurrer that the Suby State laws, tribunals, and functionpreme Court had decided" adversely Buren as follows: to this position was met by Mr. Van
"By this decision, judges in determining be concluded. But, in a popular discussion the question of authority would probably of the propriety of a law, with a view to its repeal or modification, I suppose we are at liberty to believe in opposition to a decision of the Supreme Court. Even the executive and legislative departments deny its authority to bind them. The Supreme Court decided that the Alien and Sedition Law was constitutional, and Matthew Lyon was imprisoned under it. The President, Mr. Jefferson, decided that it was not, and pardoned Mr. Lyon. The Supreme Court decided that Congress could constitutionally charter a Bank of the United States, and that the propriety and necessity of doing so were to be judged by Congress. The President, Gen. Jackson, decided that such an act was unconstitutional, and vetoed it. With these examples before me, I feel authorized to express the opinion which I entertain, that the Fugitive Slave Act is power to legislate upon the subject."
unconstitutional, because Congress has no
With regard to the denial by this act of all semblance of a jury trial to persons claimed under it as fugitive slaves, Mr. Van Buren was equally
9 Dated New York, April 4, 1851.
10 This view was also taken by many Southrons of the "State Rights" school, especially by several eminent South Carolinians.
11 In the case of Prigg against Pennsylvania.
decided and forcible, as is evinced by these further extracts from his letter:
But, to those who regard the decision of the Supreme Court as conclusive, it is important to consider other objections to the act. Conceding the power of Congress to legislate upon this subject, I think the act in question is unconstitutional, because it does not give the person seized a trial by jury at the place where he is so seized, and before he is put in the custody of the claimant, with a warrant to transport him. ***
"In my judgment, the claim of service secured by the Constitution, if it requires a law to enforce it, and if Congress can pass such a law, can only be provided for by an act which secures the trial of a question in a regular suit before a jury. The seventh amendment to the Constitution provides that, in suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved,' etc. This amendment, as well as the fifth, which declares that 'no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,' grew out of the opposition manifested to the adoption of the Constitution, because it did not, in terms, provide for the trial by jury in civil cases. It is needless to remind an American of the anxiety with which this institution has been watched. It is well described by Mr. Justice Story, in the case of Parsons vs. Bedford, 3 Peters, 446. Justice Story also explains what is meant by a suit at common law,' in the section quoted. It covers all suits except those of equity, admiralty, or maritime jurisdiction; and the Judiciary Act of 1789 (chapter 20, sections 9, 12, and 13), carries this construction into practical operation. It will hardly be claimed that Congress can take a case which entitles a party to a jury, and deprive him of a jury by converting it into a summary proceeding, or that they can, in the same way, deprive him of his liberty or property without due process of law. If they could do this, the trial by jury and the due process of law secured by the Constitution become a mockery. Treating this as a mere question of property exceeding twenty dollars in value, I entertain no doubt that it is a case where a jury trial is secured by the Constitution.
"It may be said that a person seized can try the question of his right to freedom by a jury at the place whence he fled. This is a consolation, to be sure, to a man whose freedom has been destroyed by seizure and transportation from his home; and, if he could get his witnesses to the place where the claimant concludes to take him, he could have a trial. But the act in question provides no jury trial anywhere; there is no
obligation on the claimant to take the person he seizes to any particular place; and if I have a right to try the question of title to property I hold at the place where the property is, and where the demand is made, how can it be argued that I have no such right when the demand made is for my thews and sinews?
"It is urged that juries would not render verdicts in favor of claimants, where the right was established. This does not correspond with my observation of jury trials. On the contrary, whatever prejudice jurors may feel against the law, I have hardly ever known them to fail in obeying the directions of the Court upon a point of law.
"It is also suggested, that the expense of recovering a fugitive by this mode would amount to a destruction of the right. If such an evil exists, it is incident to this unfortunate relation. It certainly furnishes no reason why the Constitution should be violated, and a safeguard broken down in reference to the liberty of a human being, which is secured to him in defending a horse or a bale of cotton."
And, as the
That the provisions of this act were harsh and cruel is certain; but that any act providing for the recovery of fugitives from Slavery could have been at once humane and efficient, is not obvious. capture and rendition of alleged slaves under this act claimed a large share of public attention during the three or four years immediately following its passage, while the residue of the Compromise measures evoked no special excitement, and had none other than a noiseless, passive operation, it is not remarkable that greater success in slave-hunting, with greater alacrity on the part of the Free States in ministering to such success, seemed to the general Northern mind the sum and substance, the "being's end and aim," of the Compromises of 1850. And, as the Federal Administration, whereof Mr. Fillmore remained the official head, and Mr. Webster became the animating soul, gave prominence and emphasis to the exertions of its sub
SLAVE-HUNTING IN FULL BLAST.
ordinates in aid of slave-catching, the alienation from it of anti-Slavery Whigs became more and more decided and formidable.
ber, was resisted by the alarmed, indignant blacks, and received a ball from a musket fired by one of them which proved fatal; and his son, who had accompanied him, was wounded. And in Milwaukee, Wis., Sherman M. Booth having been con
aiding in the rescue of Joshua Glover, a fugitive from St. Louis, the Supreme Court of that State, on a habeas corpus sued out in his behalf, decided the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional and void, and set him at liberty. This decision was overruled, however, by the Supreme Court of the United States in a unanimous decision affirming the validity of the Fugitive Slave Law, and directing that, though a State Court might properly grant a habeas corpus in behalf of a person imprisoned under Federal authority, yet that the custodian in such case had only to make return that he was so held, and that this return, being proved truthful, must be accepted by the State Court as sufficient and conclusivethe Federal and State jurisdictions being each sovereign within its proper sphere, and each entitled to entire respect from the other, though operative over the same territory. And this remains to this day the adjudicated law of the land.
Numerous arrests of alleged fugitives were made in various parts of the country, but not with uniform success. In New York City, Phila-victed in the U. S. District Court of delphia, and other marts largely engaged in Southern trade, no serious resistance was offered; though in one case a black man remanded to Maryland as a fugitive was honorably rejected and set at liberty by the claimant, as not the slave for whom he had been mistaken. In Boston, serious popular repugnance to rendition was repeatedly manifested; and in one case a negro known as Shadrach, who had been arrested as a fugitive, was rescued and escaped. In other cases, however, and conspicuously in those of Thomas Sims 12 and Anthony Burns," the State and City authorities, the Judiciary, the Military, the merchants, and probably a decided majority of the citizens, approved and aided the surrender. There were cases, however, wherein the popular sentiment of the country was on the side of the hunted blacks as was evinced at Syracuse," N. Y., in the rescue of Jerry Loguen, an alleged fugitive, from the hands of the authorities, and his protection by alternately hiding and forwarding him until he made his escape into Canada. At Christiana, Lancaster Co., Pa.,' where a considerable number of negroes were compactly settled, Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slaveholder, who attempted, with two or three accomplices, to seize his alleged slaves, four in num13 May 27, 1854.
12 April 12, 1851.
The activity and universality of slave-hunting, under the act of 1850, were most remarkable. That act became a law on the 18th of September; and, within ten days thereafter, a negro named James Hamlet had been seized in the city of New York, and very summarily dispatched to a woman in Baltimore, who claimed 14 October 1, 1851. 15 September 11, 1851.
him as her slave. Before the act was a month old, there had been several arrests under it, at Harrisburg and near Bedford, Pa., in Philadelphia, at Detroit, and in other places. Within the first year of its existence, more persons, probably, were seized as fugitive slaves than during the preceding sixty years. Many of these seizures were made under circumstances of great aggravation. Thus, in Philadelphia, Euphemia Williams, who had lived in Pennsylvania in freedom all her life, as she affirmed, and had there become the mother of six living children, of whom the oldest was seventeen, was arrested in 1851 as the slave of a Marylander named Purnell, from whom she was charged with escaping twenty-two years before. Her six children were claimed, of course, as also the property of her alleged master.
a full hearing, Judge Kane decided that she was not the person claimed by Burnell as his slave Mahala. But there were several instances in which persons who had lived in unchallenged freedom from fifteen to twentyfive years were seized, surrendered, and carried away into life-long Slavery.
The needless brutality with which these seizures were often made, tended to intensify the popular repugnance which they occasioned. In repeated instances, the first notice the alleged fugitive had of his peril was given him by a blow on the head, sometimes with a heavy club or stick of wood; and, being thus knocked down, he was carried, bleeding and insensible, before the facile commissioner, who made short work of identifying him, and earning his ten dollars, by remanding him into
Slavery. In Columbia, Pa., March, 1852, a negro, named William Smith, was seized as a fugitive by a Baltimore police officer, while working in a lumber-yard, and, attempting to escape, the officer drew a pistol and shot him dead. In Wilkesbarre, Pa., a deputy marshal and three or four Virginians suddenly came upon a nearly white mulatto waiter at a hotel, and, falling upon him from behind with a club, partially shackled him. He fought them off with the hand-cuff which they had secured to his right wrist, and, covered with blood, rushed from the house and plunged into the Susquehanna, exclaiming: "I will be drowned rather than taken alive!" He was pursued to the river-bank, and thence fired upon repeatedly, at a very short distance, as he stood in the water, up to his neck, until a ball entered his head, instantly covering his face with blood. The by-standers, who had by this time collected, were disgusted and indignant, and the hunters, fearing their interposition, retired for consultation. He thereupon came out of the water, apparently dying, and lay down on the shore. One of his pursuers remarked that "dead niggers were not worth taking South." His clothes having been torn off in the scuffle, some one brought a pair of pantaloons, and put them on him, and he was helped to his feet by a negro named Rex; on seeing which, the hunters returned and presented their revolvers, driving him again into the river, where he remained more than an hour, with only his head above the water. His claimants dared not come within his powerful grasp, as he afterward said, "he would have
FREE BLACKS KIDNAPPED.
died contented, could he have car- | be expected that they should be? In
ried two or three of them down with him." And the hunters were deterred or shamed by the spectators from further firing. Preparations being made to arrest them as rioters, they absconded; whereupon, their victim waded some distance up the stream, and was soon after found by some women, lying flat on his face in a corn-field, insensible. He was then duly cared for, and his wounds dressed, which was the last that was seen of him. His assailants were afterward arrested in Philadelphia, on a charge of riot, on a warrant issued on due complaint by a State magistrate; but Justice Grier, of the United States Supreme Court, arrested the proceedings as an unauthorized interference with Federal officers in the discharge of their duty. In his opinion, discharging the prisoners, he said:
"We are unable to perceive in this transaction anything worthy of blame in the conduct of these officers, in their unsuccessful endeavors to fulfill a most dangerous and disgusting duty; except, perhaps, a want of sufficient courage and perseverance in the attempt to execute the writ!"
many instances, free colored girls were hired for household service at some point distant from that where they had previously resided, and were known; and, being thus unsuspectingly spirited away from all who could identify them, were hurried off into Slavery. Sometimes, though not often, negroes were tempted by heavy bribes to betray their brethren into the hands of the slave-hunters. In one instance, a clerk in a drygoods store in western New York, who was of full age, a member of a church, and had hitherto borne a respectable character, hired two colored boys to work for him in a hotel in Ohio, and on his way thither sold them as fugitive slaves to three Kentuckians, who appear to have believed his representations. One of the intended victims, detecting the plot, escaped from the cars, knocking down the Kentuckian who undertook to prevent him. The other was sold for $750 to an honorable slaveholder in Warsaw, Ky., who, upon proof of the outrage, promptly and cheerfully returned him to freedom. One girl, who was hired from New York, to live as a servant in Newark, N. J., was taken directly through Newark to Washington, and there offered to a slave-trader for $600, but not accepted; when she, having become alarmed, appealed to the hotelkeeper for protection; whereupon the kidnappers abandoned her, but were ultimately arrested at Ellicott's Mills, Md., and returned to NewYork, where the husband was con
Of course, a law affording such facilities and temptations to kidnapping was not allowed to pass unimproved by the numerous villains who regarded negroes as the natural and lawful prey of whites under all circumstances. The Kentucky Yeoman, a Democratic pro-Slavery organ, once remarked that the work of arresting fugitives had become a regular business along the border line between the Slave and Free States, and that some of those engag-victed, and sent to the penitentiary. ed in it were not at all particular as to the previous slavery or freedom of those they arrested. How could it
In one instance, a negro, near Edwardsville, Ills., who had been employed in the work of capturing sev