U. S. STATUTES, SUPREME COURT DECISIONS,
AND MISCELLANEOUS DOCTRINES AND RESOLUTIONS BY DATE
February 12, 1793
"Chapter VII: An Act respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons escaping from the Service of their Masters." Laws of the United States of America, vol. 2. Philadelphia: Richard Folwell, 1796, 165 et seq. Provided for the return of fugitive slaves.
"Selectmen of Windsor against Stephen Jacob, Esquire, Windsor County, August Term, A. D. 1802." Tyler, Royall. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature of the State of Vermont Commencing with the Nineteenth Century, vol. 2. New York: I. Riley, 1810. Townspeople of Windsor, Vermont, sued Stephen Jacob, a judge on the Supreme Court of Vermont, for the support of a slave formerly owned by him. Jacob’s fellow judges ruled that, since Vermont did not recognize the institution of slavery, a bill of sale for a slave was not proof of ownership. This set a dangerous precedent in future cases concerning fugitive slaves. Theophilus Herrinton completed this precedent during the trial of a runaway slave by declaring that bills of sale for slaves from other states were also not proof of ownership. When asked what he would accept as proof, Herrinton replied that nothing less than a "bill of sale from the Almighty" would convince him that anyone had the right to own a slave. There is no surviving record of the Herrinton case, but we do know it was tried in Middlebury, Vermont, some time during his term as a state supreme court justice in 1813.
March 2, 1807
"Chapter LXVII: An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into Any Port or Place within the Jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the First Day of January, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight." Acts Passed at the Second Session of the Ninth Congress of the United States as found in The Laws of the United States of America, vol. 8. Washington City, 1805, 262 et seq. In the Constitution, the states agreed to end the African slave trade by the year 1808. President Thomas Jefferson held the states to this promise by urging the passage of this act.
March 15, 1820
Peters, Richard, ed. "Chapter XXII: An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri Territory to form a constitution and state government." The Public Statues at Large of the United States of America, vol. 3. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846, 545 et seq. As part of what was then called the Missouri Compromise, Missouri would be allowed into the Union as a slave state so long as a new free state, Maine, was also allowed in. By this means, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate was maintained, and neither the free nor the slave states controlled that legislative body. This compromise further stated that no slave state would be formed north of 36°, 30’ latitude in the West.
May 15, 1820
Peters, Richard, ed. "Chap. 113: An Act to Continue in Force ‘An Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy’ and also to Make Further Provision for Punishing the Crime of Piracy." The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 3. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846, 102-103. This act specifically stated that engagement in the African slave trade was an act of piracy punishable by death.
March 9, 1841
Curtis, B. R., one of the Associate Justices of the Court. "The United States, Appellants, v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schnooner Amistad." Reports of Decisions in the Supreme Court of the United States, with Notes, and a Digest, vol. 14. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1855, 156 et seq. On the 26 of August, 1839, Lt. Gedney of the brig Washington discovered a Spanish ship, the Amistad, off the east coast of Long Island. A group of slaves aboard that ship, led by the African Cinque, had killed the captain and crew of the vessel and were attempting to sail back to Africa. The blacks were placed in jail and tried for crimes on the high seas. Some white people in New York formed the Amistad Committee to provide for their legal defense. Their case, on demand of a minister for the Queen of Spain, was brought before the Supreme Court where they were defended by Roger S. Baldwin and former U.S. President John Quincy Adams. The Supreme Court found that Cinque and his followers had been illegally kidnapped from Africa, and, therefore, were not liable for crimes committed against their captors.
"Edward Prigg, Plaintiff in Error, v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Defendant in Error." Report of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, January Term, vol. 16. New York: Jacob R. Halsted, Law Bookseller, 1851, 539 et seq. Margaret Morgan, a slave for life in Maryland, fled to freedom in Pennsylvania. Edward Prigg was sent as the agent of Margaret Ashmore, owner of Miss Morgan, to the state of Pennsylvania to reclaim the runaway. Prigg kidnapped Miss Morgan and returned her to Maryland where he sold her, but on returning to Pennsylvania, he was arrested and charged with kidnapping under a state law passed March 25, 1826. This law forbade the use of force and violence to kidnap and sell or enslave black people residing in the state of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania law was unconstitutional, and that Prigg had the right to kidnap runaway slaves and sell them in the South. This ruling so enraged the people of Vermont and other states, that they passed laws making it illegal to enforce the Federal Fugitive Law of 1793.
September 18, 1850
Minot, George, ed. "Chap. LX.— An Act to amend, and supplementary to, the Act entitled ‘An Act respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons escaping from the Service of their Masters,’ approved February twelfth, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three." Found in The Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America from December 1, 1845, to March 3, 1851, arranged in Chronological Order; with References to the Matter of Each Act and to the Subsequent Acts on the Same Subject, vol. 9. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851, 462 et seq. This law, known as the Compromise of 1850, provided for specially appointed federal commissioners to oversee cases concerning runaway slaves without reference to state courts, which had been circumventing the Federal Fugitive Law of 1793. But the 1850 compromise was a loaded law. The commissioners would get $10 if they found that a black person was a runaway slave, but only $5 if they found that the black person was free. Which would you rather have: $10 or $5?
May 26, 1854
Minot, George, ed. "Chapter LIX: An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas." The Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America from December 1, 1851, to March 3, 1855, arranged in Chronological Order; with References to the Matter of Each Act and to the Subsequent Acts on the Same Subject, vol. 10. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1855, 277 et seq. Senator Stephen A. Douglas urged passage of this act which made null and void the Missouri Compromise. Douglas proposed that the settlers in the Kansas-Nebraska territory, which lay to the north of 36 degrees, 30 minutes of latitude, decide the issue of whether to be a free or a slave state. This doctrine, known as "popular sovereignty," was first suggested by Senator Lewis Cass, Democrat, of Michigan during Senate hearings on the Wilmot Proviso in 1846. The immediate result of "popular sovereignty" in Kansas was a blood bath.
March 9, 1857
Howard, Benjamin C., ed. "Decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford," in Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, vol. 19, December Term, 1856. Washington, D C.: W. H. & O. H. Morrison, Law Publishers and Booksellers, 1859, 397 et seq. Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom because his master took him to live in a free state for many years. Judge Taney wrote the majority decision which found that black people had no rights. Two judges wrote dissenting opinions.
August 27, 1858
Basler, Roy P, ed. "Second Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Freeport, Illinois." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 3. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953, 38 et seq. During this debate, Senator Douglas suggested that states being formed in the Western Territories could impede the importation of slaves into those lands by passing laws that would make it difficult for slave owners to live there. This principle, known as the Freeport Doctrine, angered Southerners and turned them against Douglas when he sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1860.
Moore, Frank, ed. "Doc. 243: Addresses of the Convention of the Border States" The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, vol. 1. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1862. At this convention, J. J. Crittenden of Kentucky and others proposed that a resolution be passed in the Congress stating that the United States government would not wage war against the Confederacy in order to end slavery, but only for the purpose of preserving the Union. The Crittenden Resolution actually passed the Senate on July 22, 1861, but never made it out of the Congress to the president.
September 22, 1862
Basler, Roy P., ed. "Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953, 433 et seq. Lincoln gave the states of the Confederacy 100 days to return to the Union or he would proclaim, on the first of January 1863 that their slaves would be "forever free."
January 1, 1863
Heffner, Richard D. "The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863." A Documentary History of the United States. New York: Penguin Group, 1991, 155 et seq. This proclamation "freed" slaves only in areas where the United States government had not yet imposed its jurisdiction by force. It left the border slave states alone, but did call for the formation of black regiments. The proclamation also kept Great Britain and other European nations from recognizing the Confederate States.
May 18, 1896
Davis, J. C. Bancroft, reporter. "Plessy v. Ferguson." Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court at October Term, 1895, vol. 163. New York and Albany: Banks & Brothers, Law Publishers, 1896, 537 et seq. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy of Louisiana paid for first class passage on the East Louisiana Railway from New Orleans to Covington. On taking his seat, Mr. Plessy was informed by the conductor that he would have to ride in the coach provided for blacks. Although Plessy appeared to be white, he was in fact an octoroon, one-eighth African ancestry. Plessy refused to move and was immediately arrested and jailed under a Louisiana law passed July 10, 1890, providing for separate facilities for blacks and whites on rail cars. The Supreme Court ruled that such separation of facilities was legal so long as the accommodations were also equal. Only Justice John Marshall, a former slaveholder, dissented against the "separate but equal" decision. He warned that such a ruling would "stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens."
May 17, 1954
Wyatt, Walter, reporter of decisions. "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka et al." Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court at October Term, 1953, vol. 347. Washington: GPO, 1954, 483 et seq. This case broke the previous ruling of the Court on Plessy v. Ferguson concerning "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites. Citing previous decisions in state cases, Thurgood Marshall, lawyer for the NAACP, argued successfully that separate facilities are never equal in any sense.
July 3, 1964
"Civil Rights Act of 1964." United States Statutes at Large: Containing the Laws and Concurrent Resolutions Enacted During the Second Session of the Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America, 1964, and Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and Proclamations, vol. 78. Washington: GPO, 1965, 241 et seq. This act struck the death blow to the "Jim Crow" laws of the South. It also attempted to end discriminatory practices in voter registration, but it did nothing about so-called literacy tests and the poll tax, both long used in the southern states to prevent blacks and poor whites from voting.
August 6, 1965
"Voting Rights Act of 1965." United States Statutes at Large: Containing the Laws and Concurrent Resolutions Enacted During the First Session of the Eighty-ninth Congress of the United States of America, 1965, and Reorganization Plans, Proposed Amendment to the Constitution, and Proclamations, vol. 79. Washington: GPO, 1966, 437 et seq. This act ended the use of literacy tests and the poll tax in determining who could vote in the United States.
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