• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that slave owners had the constitutional right to take possession of their property, but state officials could not be required to assist in the process.

In 1837 Edward Prigg, an agent of a Maryland slave owner, took possession of a runaway female slave in Pennsylvania. Because of the state’s personal liberty law of 1826, he was not able to obtain legal authorization to remove the woman from the state, but he forcibly took her back to Maryland. After Pennsylvania indicted Prigg for kidnapping, the state of Maryland agreed to extradite him so that the Supreme Court might consider the legal issues of the case. Writing for an 8-1 majority, Justice Joseph StoryStory, Joseph;Prigg v. Pennsylvania[Prigg v. Pennsylvania] made four rulings: First, the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 was constitutional; second, the Pennsylvania personal liberty law was unconstitutional; third, the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution implied the right of slave owners to recapture runaway slaves; and fourth, the national government had no power to compel state officials to enforce federal law. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, while joining with the rest of the opinion, disagreed with the fourth ruling.Fugitive slavesSupremacy, federal;Prigg v. Pennsylvania[Prigg v. Pennsylvania]Fugitive slaves

Following the Prigg decision, some northern legislatures prohibited state officials from helping capture fugitive slaves or using state facilities for that purpose. Southern dissatisfaction with this situation contributed to the passage of the stringent Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.[case]Prigg v. Pennsylvania[Prigg v. Pennsylvania]

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