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SUPREME COURT HISTORY
The First Hundred Years
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Majority Rules
Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)

THE ISSUE

At its core, Prigg v. Pennsylvania concerned not only individual rights, but also sectional conflict, the fragility of the antebellum Union, and the constitutional rights of the federal government versus those of states. The case raised a number of questions, among them: Do states have the right to pass legislation concerning fugitive slaves or can only the federal government legislate this issue?

THE OPINION?

Below are two opinions. Click on the answer you think represents the Supreme Court's majority opinion in Prigg v. Pennsylvania.

No Yes
Drawing of a runaway slave.

NO, states do not have the right to pass legislation concerning fugitive slaves. This area of legislation is the exclusive domain of the federal government.

"The various, diversified and almost antagonist interests of different sections of our Union, render government here a task of no small caution, forbearance and responsibility. Time and experience have emphatically taught us, that there is but one mode in which these interests can be effectually guarded and promoted; and that is, by a strict, steady and undeviating adherence to the spirit and letter of the national constitution."
-- Joseph Story

No


Drawing of slaves aboard a slave ship.

YES, states do have the right to pass legislation concerning fugitive slaves. This area of legislation is not the exclusive domain of the federal government.

"Again, the constitution of the United States declares, that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states. And although the privileges and immunities, for greater safety, are placed under the guardianship of the general government; still the states may, by their laws, and in their tribunals, protect and enforce them. They have not only the power, but it is a duty enjoined upon them by this provision in the constitution. The individual right now in question, stands on the same grounds, and is given by similar words, and ought to be governed by the same principles. "
-- Roger Taney

Yes