Prigg v. Pennsylvania


When it came to the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause, Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) upheld the Fugitive Slave Act.

Here’s the facts of Prigg v. Pennsylvania. In 1826, Edward Prigg, a slave capturer, was charged with breaking a Pennsylvania law which was anti-slavery. Here, Prigg removed a black woman named Margaret Morgan. The Pennsylvania law said it was against the law to remove Negroes out of state for the reason of enslaving them. Prigg lost his case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for arguing the 1788 and 1826 laws violated the constitutional guarantee of extradition among states and the federal government’s Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Later, the US Supreme Court would overturn Prigg’s conviction.

Here’s the issue in Prigg v. Pennsylvania. Did the Pennsylvania law violate Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution? Did the Pennsylvania law violate the Fugitive Slave Law under the Supremacy Clause?

The rule of this case is the following: By definition of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal laws supersede state laws.

This case is rare because it deals with the Extradition Clause of the Constitution. It says: “”A person charged in any state with treason, felony or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall, on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.” Here, slaves were referred to as “person” in this clause.

Also, this early case deals with Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution. The Fugitive Slave Clause says: “”No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” Here, slaves were referred to as “person” in this clause

Interestingly, Justice Story wrote the majority opinion in this case. Basically, he said because of the Fugitive Slave Clause, Congress has the power to implement the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Prigg case read Article 1, Section 8′ Necessary and Proper Clause narrowly, although McCulloch v. Maryland reads Necessary and Proper Clause broadly. Under Prigg, Congress can use the Necessary and Proper Clause narrowly as a way to implement the Fugitive Slave Clause of Article Four. Under McCulloch v. Maryland, Congress can use the Necessary and Proper Clause broadly as a way to charter a bank in regards to the Commerce Clause. Here, we see the Fugitive Slave Act narrowly upheld under the Necessary and Proper Clause.

In summary, Prigg v. Pennsylvania was an outlier case. It read the Necessary and Proper Clause narrowly to uphold the Fugitive Slave Act. In a time when most cases were reading the Necessary and Proper Clause broadly, the Supreme Court did the opposite in this case.