Alton Weekly Courier
April 28, 1859
The Oberlin Slave Case.
Our readers doubtless remember the leading points in this case, of which we made mention at the time of the rescue. The following is a brief resume:
A negro escaped from a gentleman in a slaveholding State, and went to a place of supposed safety. His owner, probably a humane man not particularly fond of the nigger-catching business, permitted his chattle to roam around loose, without a thought that the Union was in danger of dissolution thereby, or that it was his bounden duty to catch him. The slave employed himself in the novel business of working for himself, and enjoying his own earnings, and liked it so well that he neglected to return; and for all that appears to the contrary, both parties were well satisfied, not only with themselves and with each other, but with the general arrangements. Matters were in this condition when a professional two-legged hound, trained to follow fugitives, found out the whereabouts of the escaped chattle, and persuaded the easy good-natured owner that it was his constitutional duty as an Union-saving man to drag him back to bondage; and finally offered to catch him on shares. The owner consented, we hope unwillingly and in a moment of weakness. The dog set out on his expedition. Arrived at the place of operations, he got hold of Sambo by a decoy – that, being, in this case, a day’s labor and the money therefore at night – and being armed with a warrant, hurried his captive before a Commissioner for trial. – The people of Oberlin, where the capture was made, knowing no evil of the negro, and no good of his accuser, by some means not violent or bloody, contrived to get between the dog and his prey. They did not recognized the propriety of this man-catching on shares; hence they made a good joke of the rescue, and laughingly set Sambo free. He cut and run, and the dog did likewise. In due time, the parties who hooted the half and half man out of their town, were indicted by a Grand Jury of a Federal Court. Jurors summoned out of the choice spirits of the Democracy of the District, by a Democratic Marshal charged by a Democratic Judge, and enlightened by Democratic witnesses, have found one of the parties Mr. Bushnell, guilty, and he is condemned to pay a fine of a thousand dollars, or lie in the Penitentiary a year.
Some twenty or thirty others – the most respectable and influential citizens of that vicinity, but all equally guilty with Mr. Bushnell – were indicted at the same time, and are yet to be tried. Knowing that the jury who found Mr. Bushnell guilty had been “packed,” and that a trial before them would be but a mockery, they demanded a new jury. This the Court refused. They then stated that they would make no defence, surrendered themselves to the Court, and demanded that their recognizances should be canceled. The Court then offered to let them go on their own recognizances, which offer they declined. The Marshal proposed to release them on their single promise to appear, which they declined to give, and he was compelled to take them to jail. The Sheriff would not receive them as prisoners without instructions from the County Commissioners, but finally consented to admit them into the jail as guests.
The pro-slavery officials in and about Oberlin seem likely to find themselves in as bad a fix as the man who wanted somebody to help him let go the Billy Goat!
May 6, 1859
The Oberlin Rescue.
The Oberlin rescue cases grow more and more complicated, and are likely to lead to an encounter between the Federal authorities and the State Courts of Ohio, similar to that which took place in Wisconsin in the case of Booth, who was proceeded against in a civil suit upon a similar charge of resistance to the Fugitive Slave act. Advantage was taken of the commission of the parties charged into close custody, after the conviction of Bushnell, to apply to the Supreme Court of Ohio for a writ of habeas corpus. In his application to the Court for his writ, which was made on the 21st, Judge Spaulding stated that he intended to question the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave act, which he held to be an intrusion upon the rights of the State and its sovereign prerogative to regulate, by pains and penalties, its own internal policy. He also insists that it was the peculiar duty of the Supreme Court of the State to guard the liberties of the citizens of Ohio fro infringement whether by the Federal Judiciary or anybody else. The Court undeterred by the recent decision at Washington, in the Wisconsin case which indeed, admitted their right so issue the writ, though it denied their right to discharge under it anybody committed by Federal authority, granted a rule upon the Marshal to show cause why this writ should not issue.
Both Marshal and District Attorney were thrown into a great rage by the appearance of this document – the Marshal declaring that the prisoners never should be taken to Columbus. They paid, however, so much attention to the rule of the Supreme Court, that the District Attorney appeared at Columbus on Saturday to show cause why the writ should not issue. The point was argued on Monday, and the decision of the Court will probably be found under the telegraphic head of to-day’s paper.
Already, before the service of the rule, the Marshal had received a telegraphic intimation from Columbus that a habeas corpus might issue, and knowing that the Cleveland jailor would at once obey it, he began to take measures to get the prisoners back into his own hands. He began with Bushnell, the one already convicted, under pretense that he was wanted in the Courtroom, and, having got possession of him under that dodge, clapped him into a side-room of that building, which is the property of the United States, and there kept him as a prisoner. He then sent to the jailor for the mittimus under which Bushnell had been committed to his custody, but that the jailor refused to give it up, and still claims Bushnell as his prisoners.
In thus undertaking to lock Bushnell up in a special jail, the Marshal has certainly got himself into difficulty. The only place in which a Sheriff or Marshal has a right to detain a prisoner, is in the jail established by public authority. He has no right to lock up his prisoners in any out-of-0the-way place he may select. The act of 1834 puts prisoners, committed by the authority of the United States Courts, under the exclusive control of the jailers of the State jails to which they may have been committed. Bushnell was duly committed to the Cleveland jail, and the jailer still holds the mittimus, which shows it. The Marshal’s detention of Bushnell elsewhere is a false imprisonment, and would seem to afford ample ground for the issue of a habeas corpus, in his case at least, however the court at Columbus may decide as to the other case.
Meanwhile, an indictment for kidnapping, found by the Grand Jury of Lorain County against Jennings and Manning, the two Kentucky witnesses, has put them in danger of arrest. To protect them against it, the District Judge has committed them to the custody of the Marshal as witnesses, and he keeps them locked up in the building in which the United States Court is held, but whether in the same room with Bushnell or not, we are not we are not prepared to say. It is suspected that he means to smuggle them secretly out of the State, in order to prevent their detention under the indictment found against them. The Marshal has sworn in a hundred desperadoes or deputies, it is thought with this object. But, to prevent this, a strict watch is kept up about the building in which they are lodged. There are also suspicious of an intention to carry off Bushnell to some secret place of confinement, notwithstanding a pledge give by the District Attorney to the Supreme Court, that if a writ should issue, Bushnell should be forthcoming. Some curious details will be found in the letters of our Cleveland correspondent.