Prigg v. Pennsylvania

(1842)

Prigg v. Pennsylvania was the first decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to interpret the fugitive slave clause of the U.S. Constitution and also the first decision to consider the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. In his “opinion of the Court,” Justice Joseph Story of Massachusetts reached six major conclusions: that the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was constitutional in all its provisions; that no state could pass any law that added requirements to the federal law or impeded the return of fugitive slaves, such as requiring that a state judge hear the case; that masters or their agents had a constitutional right of self-help (the technical term was “recaption”) to seize any fugitive slave anywhere and to bring that slave back to the South and that this could be done without complying with the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act or even bringing the alleged fugitive before a judge; that if a captured fugitive slave was brought before a judge, he or...

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Joseph Story (Library of Congress)

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