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Tue, 03.01.1842

Prigg v. Pennsylvania decided

*On this date in 1842, Prigg v. Pennsylvania was decided.  This was a United States Supreme Court case in which the court held that the federal Fugitive Slave Act (1793) precluded a Pennsylvania state law that prohibited Blacks from being taken out of the free state of Pennsylvania into slavery.

The Court overturned the conviction of slavecatcher Edward Prigg as a result.  Occurring under the presidency of John Tyler, Prigg v. Pennsylvania weakened the enforcement mechanisms of the 1973 Fugitive Slave Act by allowing states to forbid their officials from cooperating in the return of fugitive slaves. But, by asserting federal government authority and responsibility over the area of fugitive slave return, it set the stage for future more stringent laws that would bypass individual state decisions about slavery.

(Northern states by this time had abolished slavery, and most prohibited slaveowners from bringing slaves to their states, saying they would be considered free if brought in state.) Later, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (part of the Compromise of 1850), required even free states to support capture and return of fugitive slaves with their law enforcement, increasing penalties for non-compliance.  Also, by refusing to take judicial notice of the problem of free blacks being kidnapped in free states and sold into slavery, the Prigg decision established an implicit precedent that blacks were entitled to fewer procedural protections than were whites.  

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