Wednesday, June 20, 2018

C. Slavery and American Law

This violent and oppressive system was supported by the United States legal system for a long period of time. Thus slavery was historically more than simply a social and economic institution. It was also an established legal institution.1 For instance, Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution has been traditionally understood to limit Congress' power to regulate slavery.2 It is thought that this Article meant that Congress was denied the power to regulate the “internal slave trade, leaving only importation from Africa to be prohibited after 1808.” Walter Berns, The Constitution and the Migration of Slaves, 78 Yale L.J. 198 (1968). Also, in 1850, Congress passed a statute supporting the rights of slaveowners to capture escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act provided that:

[W]hen a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due ... may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person ... [and may] take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid.

The Fugitive Slave Act, ch. 60, § 6, 9 Stat. 462 (1850). This Act also provided for fines and/or imprisonment for those who aided escaped slaves, and stipulated that both law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens were bound by law to aid in the capture of escaped slaves. Id. Finally, in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, Scott, a slave, brought suit to gain his freedom. 60 U.S. 393, 15 L.Ed. 691 (1856). The Supreme Court of the United States held that since Scott was a “negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves,” he could not be a citizen of the United States, and hence had no standing to bring suit in a United States court. Id., 60 U.S. at 403–04.


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