The Lemmon Slave Case

In November of 1852 Jonathan and Juliet Lemmon were traveling from Viriginia to Texas with eight slaves.  They stopped in New York City to catch a steamboat for Texas.  Louis Napoleon, a free black man living in New York City learned of the eight slaves and swiftly petitioned the Superior Court of New York City for a writ of habeus corpus on behalf of the slaves.  Justice Elijah Paine granted the application after a hearing from November 9-12, 1852 and the slaves were freed.  The basis of his decision was a New York state law freeing any slaves that entered the borders of the state.  Go here to read the decision.

The decision caused a furor in the South, and a furious legal battle was fought out in the New York State courts over the next eight years to determine whether the slaves would remain free.  The law firm of E. D. Culver represented the slaves, and newly minted attorney Chester A. Arthur, future president of the United States, was the member of the firm that took the lead in their defense after he was admitted to the bar in 1853.  He convinced the New York state legislature to pass an act ordering the governor of New York to defend the freedom of the slaves and served as their counsel along with two other members of the firm.  On December 30, 1857 the New York State Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court.  In March of 1860 the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York state, affirmed the trial court.  Go here to read the decision.  A legal battle of epic proportions in the United States Supreme Court was averted by the onset of the Civil War.

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Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. States Rights, my ass.


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