Thursday, May 2, 2013

Slavery and the Supreme Court: Prigg v. Pennsylvania

Prigg v. Pennsylvania: Slavery, the Supreme Court, and the Ambivalent Constitution
By H. Robert Baker

From the University Press of Kansas, "Prigg v. Pennsylvania: Slavery, the Supreme Court, and the Ambivalent Constitution, by H. Robert Baker," October 2012  --  Margaret Morgan was born in freedom’s shadow. Her parents were slaves of John Ashmore, a prosperous Maryland mill owner who freed many of his slaves in the last years of his life. Ashmore never laid claim to Margaret, who eventually married a free black man and moved to Pennsylvania. Then, John Ashmore’s widow sent Edward Prigg to Pennsylvania to claim Margaret as a runaway. Prigg seized Margaret and her children—one of them born in Pennsylvania—and forcibly removed them to Maryland in violation of Pennsylvania law. In the ensuing uproar, Prigg was indicted for kidnapping under Pennsylvania’s personal liberty law. Maryland, however, blocked his extradition, setting the stage for a remarkable Supreme Court case in 1842.

In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court considered more than just the fate of a single slavecatcher. The Court’s majority struck down the free states’ personal liberty laws and reaffirmed federal supremacy in determining the procedures for fugitive slave rendition. H. Robert Baker has written the first and only book-length treatment of this landmark case that became a pivot point for antebellum politics and law some fifteen years before Dred Scott.

Baker addresses the Constitution’s ambivalence regarding slavery and freedom. At issue were the reach of slaveholders’ property rights into the free states, the rights of free blacks, and the relative powers of the federal and state governments. By announcing federal supremacy in regulating fugitive slave rendition, Prigg v. Pennsylvania was meant to bolster what slaveholders claimed as a constitutional right. But the decision cast into doubt the ability of free states to define freedom and to protect their free black populations from kidnapping.

Baker’s eye-opening account raises crucial questions about the place of slavery in the Constitution and the role of the courts in protecting it in antebellum America. More than that, it demonstrates how judges fashion conflicting constitutional interpretations from the same sources of law. Ultimately, it offers an instructive look at how constitutional interpretation that claims to be faithful to neutral legal principles and a definitive original meaning is nonetheless freighted with contemporary politics and morality. Prigg v. Pennsylvania is a sobering lesson for those concerned with today’s controversial issues, as states seek to supplement and preempt federal immigration law or to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Prigg v. Pennsylvania is about much more than slavery. With crisp, engaging prose Baker reveals the critical connection between this landmark case and battles fought today over federalism, the ambiguity of the U.S. Constitution, and how important, though differing, regional priorities become embedded in the law.”—Sally Hadden, author of Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas
“Baker provides a model balance between the personal and legal stories and understands that, while the villains and heroes of his tale may seem obvious to modern readers, the issues were not so clear to antebellum jurists.”—Peter Charles Hoffer, author of The Great New York Conspiracy of 1741: Slavery, Crime, and Colonial Law (source: The University Press of Kansas)

Video streaming by Ustream


  1. Your cuггent write-up ρroνides confirmed useful to us.
    It’s extrеmelу educational
    and you're clearly really well-informed in this region. You have got popped my sight to be able to numerous opinion of this particular subject matter along with intriguing, notable and solid articles.

    My blog post; buy ambien

  2. Pull your elbows upwards at an angle, often in direction of your
    head but not straight again.

    Also visit my weblog bowflex adjustable dumbbells

  3. It's remarkable in support of me to have a web page, which is beneficial designed for my know-how. thanks admin

    Here is my webpage: Abercrombie Bruxelles

  4. I believe that is one of the such a lot vital info for me.
    And i'm happy studying your article. But wanna remark on some common things, The site style is ideal, the articles is truly excellent : D. Excellent task, cheers

    Review my page; Abercrombie & Fitch

  5. Great website. A lot of helpful info here. I'm sending it to some pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks in your effort!

    Also visit my blog post Kris Letang Jersey

  6. The Canon 5D Mark III is far better at high ISO than the Nikon D4,
    period. Some as well as components of the Nikon D700 are these:
    . According to Chung, the Nikon has the edge for detail and for
    the addition of a crop mode while canon has the advantage for lack of moire and high ISO performance.

    Here is my page ... canon 5d mark iii review

  7. It can help you in your business life, school, or personal
    life. The heat from the air moves into the cooled refrigerant.
    To save energy, the aim was for residents to program their schedules for regulating home temperatures,
    which proved to be complex and not popular in use.

    Also visit my web site; nest thermostat



Click here to return to the US Slave Home Page