to swear that he is a slave who has escaped from his owner's service, he cannot require a trial by jury of the issue so raised, although the judge or commissioner before whom the claimant sees fit to bring him may be in league with that claimant to get him out of the protection of the law and into the power of his deadly enemies.
And it is specially provided by this act1
In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.
2. It did not even allow him a hearing before a judge; but authorized the captor to take him at once before any commissioner appointed to take depositions, etc., by a Judge of the Federal Courts
, who was clothed by this act with plenary power in the premises; on whose rendition and certificate he might be hurried off at once into Slavery, without stay or appeal.
3. Said commissioner was to receive $10 for his services in case he directed the surrender of the alleged fugitive, but only $5 in case he, for any cause, decided against the claimant.
The act thus, in effect, offered him a bribe to decide against the person charged with owing “service or labor.”
4. The persons charged with the duty of arresting the alleged fugitives were, in every instance, authorized and empowered by the act to “summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus
of the proper county,” to aid them in their work; “and all good citizens are hereby commanded
to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law.”
Mr. John Van Buren
, in a letter3
to a Massachusetts Convention of opponents of this law, while admitting the right to reclaim and the duty of surrendering fugitives from Slavery, condemned the enactment in all its more important features: first, as an assumption by Congress of a duty properly devolving on the States,4
and to be rightfully executed by State laws, tribunals, and functionaries.
The demurrer that the Supreme Court had decided5
adversely to this position was met by Mr. Van Buren
By this decision, judges in determining the question of authority would probably be concluded.
But, in a popular discussion of the propriety of a law, with a view to its repeal or modification, I suppose we are at liberty to believe in opposition to a decision of the Supreme Court.
Even the executive and legislative departments deny its authority to bind them.
The Supreme Court decided that the Alien and Sedition Law was constitutional, and Matthew Lyon was imprisoned under it. The President, Mr. Jefferson, decided that it was not, and pardoned Mr. Lyon.
The Supreme Court decided that Congress could constitutionally charter a Bank of the United States, and that the propriety and necessity of doing so were to be judged by Congress.
The President, Gen. Jackson, decided that such an act was unconstitutional, and vetoed it. With these examples before me, I feel authorized to express the opinion which I entertain, that the Fugitive Slave Act is unconstitutional, because Congress has no power to legislate upon the subject.
With regard to the denial by this act of all semblance of a jury trial to persons claimed under it as fugitive slaves, Mr. Van Buren