Personal Liberty Law of Virginia

    Source citation
    "Personal Liberty Law of Virginia," Charleston (SC) Mercury, December 18, 1860, p. 1.
    Original source
    New York Courier, New York Enquirer
    Newspaper: Publication
    Charleston (SC) Mercury
    Newspaper: Headline
    Personal Liberty Law of Virginia
    Newspaper: Page(s)
    Date Certainty
    Sayo Ayodele
    Transcription date
    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.

    Will the editor of the Charleston MERCURY publish the enclosed Personal Liberty Law of the State of Virginia, as a matter of justice to both North and South, showing as it does that the sense of justice and the feeling of right and humanity prevail in both sections alike; and that this law, like the Pennsylvania law of 1847 against kidnapping, are both creditable to the States that enacted them, being demanded by the spirit of christianity and the civilization of the age. By so doing, he will oblige


    December 12th, 1860


    We find the following Personal Liberty Law in the code of Virginia:

    CODE OF VIRGINIA, - Revision, August 15, 1849, page 464, chapter cvi. of Suits for Freedom.

    SEC. 1. Any person conceiving himself unlawfully detained as a slave, may petition the circuit court, or court of the county or corporation in which he may be detained, for leave to sue for his freedom; or he may complain to a justice.

    SEC. 2. If the complaint be made to a justice, he shall, by precept or writing, give the complainant in charge to the Sheriff or other officer, to be produced before the circuit court, or court of the county or corporation, as the complainant may elect, at the next term thereof; and in the meantime to be safely kept, at the expense of the person claiming to be the owner and shall cause such person to be notified thereof.

    SEC. 3. If the person claiming to be the owner or someone for him, will enter into bond, approved by the officer having the complainant in charge, in a penalty equal to double the value of the complainant, supposing him to be a slave, conditional to having him forthcoming before the said court at the next term thereof, such officer shall deliver him the complainant.

    SEC. 4. The court in which such petition may be presented shall assign the petitioner counsel, who, without reward, shall aid him in the prosecution of his suit; and until the person claiming to be the owner, or some one for him, will enter into bond before the board or its clerk in such penalty as the court shall direct, conditionally to have the petitioner forthcoming to abide the judgment of the court; and in the meantime to allow him reasonable opportunity to prepare for trial, shall deliver him in charge to the proper officer for safe keeping at the expense of the person so claiming to be the owner; but the petitioner may in the meantime be hired out, if the court so order, and the hire shall be disposed of as the court shall direct. The petitioner shall have, free of costs, all needful process, serving of officers, and attendance of witnesses.

    SEC. 5. It shall be the duty of the counsel to file with the clerk a statement in writing of the material facts of the case, with his opinion thereon; and unless it appear manifest therefrom that the suit ought not to be prosecuted, the court shall cause the person claiming to be the owner to be summoned to answer the petition.

    SEC. 6. The case may be tried, without regard to the place on the docket, at the term of the court to which the summons shall be returned, executed, and a jury, free from exception, without the formality of pleading, shall be empaneled to try whether the petitioner be free or not.

    SEC. 7. If the verdict be for the petitioner, the jury may find damages for his detention pending the suit; and the court shall adjudge the petitioner to be free, and award to him damages and costs.

    It shall be observed that the very substance and spirit of the Massachusetts law, the very provisions which are denounced as illegal and unconstitutional, are embodied in this chapter of the code of Virginia.

    Any person is authorized to sue for his freedom. Such persons, during the producing of the suit, must be kept in custody at the expense of  the person claiming to be the owner. Or the claimant may take the custody of such person on giving bonds in a penalty of double the value of the petitioner ($1000, by the Fugitive Slave law) to have him forthcoming on the trial. Counsel is assigned the petitioner by the State to prosecute his suit, and he is allowed, free of cost, all needful process, services of officers and attendance of witnesses. The suit has precedence of all other cases on the docket of the court; all formalities of pleading are waived, and the question of freedom or slavery is to be tried by a jury. If the petitioner obtain a verdict in his favor he is to be declared free, and the claimant is mulcted in damages and costs.

    If the caption of the law did not read “Code of Virginia,” one would think he was reading the law of Vermont. – N.Y. Courier and Enquirer.
    How to Cite This Page: "Personal Liberty Law of Virginia," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,