• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, declaring that slavery was a political question for the states to decide.

A conductor on the Underground Railroad, John Van Zandt, was accused of hiding and assisting fugitive slaves in violation of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. Salmon P. Chase,Chase, Salmon P. attorney and future chief justice, defended Van Zandt before the Supreme Court, arguing that Congress had no enforcement power with regard to slavery and that the act was unconstitutional. However, the Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the 1793 act. In the opinion for the Court, Justice Levi WoodburyWoodbury, Levi;Jones v. Van Zandt[Jones v. Van Zandt] rejected all the abolitionist arguments presented by the petitioners for the fugitive slaves. He stated that slavery was one of the “sacred” compromises that led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, was beyond reach of the Court. The legitimacy of slavery as an institution was a political question to be determined by the states, not the Court.Fugitive slaves;Jones v. Van Zandt[Jones v. Van Zandt]

Civil War

Fugitive slaves

Political questions

Scott v. Sandford

Slavery

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