New York Herald, “Important Decision on the Fugitive Slave Law,” September 4, 1851

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    "Important Decision on the Fugitive Slave Law," New York Herald, September 4, 1851, p. 2: 1-2.
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    New York Herald
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    Important Decision on the Fugitive Slave Law
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    Michael Blake, Dickinson College
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    Important Decision on the Fugitive Slave Law.

    We states, the other day, and expressed our gratification for the fact, that the Fugitive Slave act of 1850 had been faithfully enforced by the judicial authorities of the free States, and that its enforcement had been generally acquiesced in, except in the case of Shadrach, in Boston.  We had not then directed our attention to the decision of Judge Conklin, United States Judge of the Western district of this State, in the case of the fugitive slave Davis, on writ of habeas corpus, which was made on Saturday last, discharging the fugitive, who immediately fled to Canada.  In this case, H. K. Smith, Esq., United States Commissioner at Buffalo, had, after an impartial hearing, given a certificate remanding the fugitive slave to his master.  There is not a shadow of doubt of his being a fugitive slave, as claimed.  This point is beyond dispute.  Hence Davis tied to Canada as soon as Judge Conklin discharged him.

    The ground of the discharge is, that he escaped in August, 1850, and that the last Fugitive Slave law was passed by Congress in September, 1850.  The argument is, that the law of September does not apply, and the rule as to ex post facto enactments (referring entirely to laws respecting [illegible]) is invoked in the construction of the net, though it appears a [illegible] novel recourse.  But the act of 1793 is not repealed by the act of 1850.  The Supreme Court of the United States decided, in the case of Prigg, that the extradition clause of the constitution referring to fugitives from labor was self-executing- that Congress might enact laws giving federal, judicial, or other offices, power to enforce constitutional obligations, and proscribing into laws and forms of proceedings, &c, but that Congress could not devolve the duty on the State, Judicial, or other officers, and that State legislation could not provide or resist, or [illegible] the remedy.  The act of 1798, excepting the clauses authorizing State authorities to enforce it are still in full force.  The act of September 1850, does not repeal it, for the title of the latter expressly states it to be amendatory of he act of 1798.  The constitution imperatively requires the fugitive slave to be delivered up.  The words are: -

    No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another shall be consequences of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up of the owner of the party to whom such service or labor is owed.

    It would seem to be a palpable evasion of the constitution, and indeed a violation of it, if the facto of owing service or labor is proved, for a judicial officer to discharge him.  The legislation of Congress cannot restrict the constitutional right of the master.  No legislation of Congress should be contrived as to restrain or embarrass such right.  The provisions of the constitution is imperative and paramount.  The act of 1798 an the act of 1850 were both intended to facilitate the enforcement of that right, not to embarrass or restrain it- not to nullify the constitutional provision; but were in aid of it.  The decision, as reported, seems to us to be an evasion of the act of 1798, or that portion of it still unrepealed, and declared by the Supreme Court of the United States to be within the constitution; and likewise an evasion of the law of 1850, notoriously intended to be cumulative to the act of 1798.  The criticisms bout technical forms and papers, and the discharge of the slave in the face of full proof of his being a slave and fugitive, looks like quibbling away the remedy intended to be given in good fatih by the compromise acts.  The South will not be satisfied iwth this mode of expanding and administering the law.  If the decision of Judge Conklin is adhered to, fugitive slaves in this State, who escaped prior to September, 1850, have in effect full immunity, for they cannot be delivered up under th elaw of that month.  If arrested under it, Judge Conklin will not deliver them up onter the act of 1798, nor under the constiutional obligation and plege; but they will be discharged, so as to enable them to run to Canada.  This decision will, we predict, arouse and excite the South more than anything that has occurred.  We regret that it has occurred, and especially that it was made in New York.

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