Jack v. Martin, 1834

12 Wend. 311 (New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1834)
14 Wend. 507 (Court for the Correction of Errors, 1835)

Fugitive Slave Rendition

In The Founder’s Constitution, an anthology of writings (letters, records of debates and early cases) relating to the Federal Constitution, Chancellor Reuben Walworth’s decision in Jack v. Martin is included as Document 15 of the materials underlying Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 (Full Faith and Credit–Fugitive Slave Rendition).

On August 7, 1830, Mary Martin of New Orleans, Louisiana, applied to the Recorder of the City of New York for a writ of habeas corpus to bring Jack, a man that she claimed was her slave under the laws of Louisiana, before the court. Following a hearing, the Recorder granted a certificate authorizing Martin to take Jack back to Louisiana, and Jack was the delivered by the Recorder to the Sheriff of New York to be returned as ordered.

Jack applied to the Court of Common Pleas for a writ de homine replegiando, an ancient common law writ that had been revived in parts of the United States, mainly in cases involving the fugitive slave law. It was similar to the writ of habeas corpus but carried with it the right to a jury trial. Jack’s principle claim was that because both he and Mary Martin were currently resident in New York, he had become a free man by operation of law. The court rejected this argument, and gave judgment in favor of Mary Martin.

Jack’s case was appealed to the New York Supreme Court of Judicature where Jack was represented by J. I. Roosevelt, Jr. and R. Sedgwick. Mary Martin was represented by Charles O’Conor. The Court’s opinion was written by Justice Samuel Nelson, who examined the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law and concluded that the right to legislate on this subject belonged exclusively to the National Government. Justice Nelson also concluded that, contrary to decades of New York jurisprudence, where a magistrate grants a certificate under the fugitive slave law, a writ of de homine replegiando cannot be taken under State law to prevent the owner from removing the slave from New York.

Jack v. Martin came before the Court for the Correction of Errors in December 1935. Jack was represented by G. Wood and R. Sedgwick and Charles O’Connor again represented Mary Martin. In his opinion, Chancellor Reuben Walworth stated that he could find no grant of power in the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution that gave Congress the power to pass a law under which “any free citizen of this State may be seized as a slave or apprentice who has escaped from servitude, and transported to a distant part of the union without any trial except a summary examination before a magistrate.” The Chancellor concluded that the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 was invalid. However, the Court held that New York State was obliged to return Jack to Louisiana under Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Federal Constitution (Fugitive Slave clause).

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