Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
PERSONAL LIBERTY LAWS (IN
—In 1840 New York passed an act securing a trial by jury to persons accused of being fugitive slaves. This was the first real "personal liberty law," other previous state statutes being ostensibly or really designed to assist in the rendition of fugitives; and even this statute soon fell into disuse and was practically forgotten. The case of Prigg vs. Pennsylvania (see
—The passage of the fugitive slave law of 1850, which avoided all employment of state officers, necessitated a change in the personal liberty laws. Accordingly, new laws were passed by Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1854, by Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan in 1855, by Wisconsin and Kansas in 1858, by Ohio in 1859, and by Pennsylvania in 1860. These laws generally prohibited the use of the state's jails for detaining fugitives; provided state officers, under various names, throughout the state, to act as counsel for persons alleged to be fugitives; secured to all such persons the benefits of habeas corpus and trial by jury; required the identify of the fugitive to be proved by two witnesses; forbade state judges and officers to issue writs or give any assistance to the claimant; and imposed a heavy fine and imprisonment for the crime of forcibly seizing or representing as a slave any free person with intent to reduce him to slavery. New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, California and Oregon passed no full personal liberty laws; but there were only two of these states, New Jersey and California, which gave any official sanction or assistance to the rendition of fugitive slaves, though three of them, Indiana, Illinois and Oregon, did so indirectly, by prohibiting the entrance within their borders of negroes either slave or free. In the other states named above, the action of the legislative, judiciary or executive was generally so unfriendly that the South Carolina declaration of causes for secession in 1860 included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and New Hampshire with the ten states which had passed liberty laws, in the charge of having violated their constitutional obligation to deliver fugitive slaves.
—The fugitive slave law and the personal liberty laws together show plainly that the compromise of 1850 (see
—The objection to the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law is, in brief, that the rendition of fugitive slaves, as well as of fugitives from justice, was an obligation imposed by the constitution upon the states; and that the federal government, which has never attempted to give the law in the latter case, had no more right to do so in the former. (See
—The writer's own belief that the obligation of rendition was upon the states alone, has prevented him from classing the personal liberty laws under nullification. If, however, the obligation was really federal, they were certainly nullifications, though not to the same degree as that of South Carolina; for the latter absolutely prohibited the execution of the tariff act, while the former only impeded the rendition of fugitive slaves. The principle, however, is the same. (See
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