Lowell Daily Citizen
April 21, 1859
The Oberlin Slave Cases.
Some months since two Kentuckians attempted to kidnap a colored boy in Lorain County Ohio, but they were prevented, and some thirty or forty of the rescuers, highly respectable citizens of Oberlin, were arraigned and bound over on their own recognizances. The trial of one of the number took place last week at Cleveland, and resulted in his conviction. The local papers say that the jury was packed, and that every man was a Buchanan democrat. This case having been disposed of, the District Attorney called the name of James Langston as the next case, but the counsel for the defense said they were only ready to proceed with the case of Prof Peck. The attorney insisting upon Mr. Langston’s case, the defense said they thought they could be ready by the time the new jury were ready to proceed, whereupon the Judge said that the same jury that had tried the first case would try all the cases. This ruling of the Judge was strenuously opposed by counsel for the defense, as a mockery of that justice which should prevail in every court. The court announced that the ruling would be enforced, when the counsel for defense refused to call any witnesses, or appear before such a jury, and insisted upon the canceling of the recognizances of the accused. This being done, the marshal was at a loss to know what to do with the company, and tried to get them to give their paroled for their appearance, but after consultation they decided that they would give no bail, enter into no recognizance, and make no promises to the court. Of course nothing could be done but lock them up, but the jailor refused to put them in cells, and furnished the whole party, twenty in number, a large room in his own house. Here, at last accounts, they were making themselves as comfortable as possible. In the evening, a reporter paid them a visit, and found Prof. Peck reading the Bible, which exercise was followed by singing and prayer. The reporter adds that “such an honorable, conscientious, intelligent and good-looking set of ‘criminals’ was never confined in that jail.”
The Boston Daily Advisor
April 22, 1859
The Slave Rescue Trials at Cleveland.
Cleveland, Ohio, has for a few days been the scene of a most exciting contest arising out of an attempt to enforce the fugitive slave law. It will be remembered that a slave was arrested last September, at Oberlin, the centre of the anti-slavery sentiment of the Western Reserve, and was subsequently rescued from his captors, who had a power of attorney from Kentucky, and were accompanied by a U.S. Marshal having a capias. It appears to have been shown on the trial that this power of attorney was not made known to the rescuers, as the authority of the captors, and that the warrant acted upon was issued by a Commissioner of the Southern District, and was therefore without authority in the Northern District. The rescuers were from Oberlin, and among them were a Professor in the College, several prominent citizens and some of the students. And indictment was found against them, and 37 persons were taken to Cleveland and held for trial. The trial resulted in the conviction of the first person arraigned.
In reference to the conduct of the prosecution it is said that one of the men on the grand jury was the father of the boy who was hired to decoy the slave into the hands of the captors. That of the petit jury, every man was an adherent of the democratic party, and one of them a deputy United States Marshal, and that when the question came up as to the trial of the other cases, the District Attorney insisted that each of them should be tried by that same jury.
The prisoners thereupon abandoned their defence. A motion was made to have their recognizances cancelled, and the District-Attorney moved that they should be remanded to the custody of the Marshal. As the federal government had no jail in Cleveland, the sheriff of the county agreed to received them as citizens, but not as prisoners, and they were taken to the receiving room of the jail. All this took place on or before Friday last. On Saturday hundreds visited the jail to see and converse with the prisoners. On Sunday divine services were conducted by Professor Peck, who preached from the door to those with him inside, and to an immense crowd outside.
On Monday morning, the prisoners were again brought into Court.
The Court stated that the struck jury, in the case of Bushnell, would not be the jury, which would try the remaining cases, but that the regular jury of the term, summoned to try all the cases, would be called, and if there were objections they could be stated.
Thereupon the names of the jurors who served the Bushnell case were called, but the array being challenged, the Court was of opinion that the indictment being the same in this case as in the other, with merely a change of name of defendant, the same jury should not try the case that tried Bushnell.
The Marshal wanted to know if, in case he knew of a man who would not execute the law, he should put him on. The Court said he must select good and lawful men.
The Marshal said he had asked half a dozen men opposed to him in politics, to be present, but he did not see one of them in the room.
A new jury seems then to have been summoned and, according to the latest accounts, the trials were progressing.
The Berkshire County Eagle
April 29, 1859
The Ohio Slave Case.
In the Oberlin rescue cases, at Cleveland, the thirty-six prisoners who went to jail on the 15th, rather than stand their trial before the jury, which convicted Simeon Bushnell, have gained their point. Brought from jail into Court on Monday, a new jury was ordered for Mr. Langston.
There is one old Whig and one Republican on the new jury. A notorious character was detected in assisting the U.S. Marshal in his attempt to pack the second jury. A new feature in the case appeared on Wednesday when Jennings and Mitchell, the two Kentucky witnesses for the prosecution, were arrested in open court, on a warrant issued by the Lorain county court of common pleas, on an indictment of kidnapping. The U. S. Marshal then stepped forward and showed a bench warrant by which they were held as witnesses. The Lorain county officers stated that the arrest was made, subject to the prior claim of the U.S. court, and they only asked that the men might be delivered to them when released by the marshal. The judge declared the arrest made by the Lorain officers a contempt of his court, for which the officers were liable to be committed, but he did not choose to go that length in vindication of the dignity of his court. The Lorain officers disclaimed all intention of interfering with the U.S. court, but said that Jennings and Mitchell had not been out of the building for two weeks, and there had been no other opportunity to arrest them. No further action was had, and it is evident that the Ohio officers will have to look sharp night and day, or the U.S. officers will prevent their arrest of the slave catchers by hurrying them off to Kentucky.
The Boston Daily Advisor
May 2, 1859
The Oberlin Rescue Cases.
The cases now on trial at Cleveland, Ohio, arising out of the rescue of a fugitive slave held by the United States marshal at Oberlin, have given rise to some singular and rather critical conflicts of jurisdiction, between the United States Courts and those of the State of Ohio. The deputy sheriff of Loraine county, Ohio, holds, it is said, a warrant for the arrest of two witnesses from Kentucky, who had come on behalf of the alleged owner of the fugitive, and who are required to answer to a charge of kidnapping. To retain the witnesses in the United States court, and to protect them from the State court, they were arrested as witnesses and for want of bail committed to the custody of the Marshal. Both Marshal and Sheriff were provided with a large number of assistants and it is said that it looked ominous for a time, and that the Kentuckians were evidently thankful that they had no bail to offer, and could be committed to the safe-keeping of the Marshal.
In addition to this, while Bushnell, who was the first of the rescuers who was tried, and who was convicted in the District Court, was waiting for sentence, application was made to the Supreme Court of Ohio for a writ of habeas corpus requiring the United States Marshal to have his prisoner before the Court at Columbus. The Court enjoined the United States Marshal to appear on Saturday, April 22, to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not issue. A copy of this injunction was served upon District-Attorney Belden, at Cleveland, on the 22d. The case was argued at Columbus on the 25th, and on Thursday last the Court gave its decision refusing the application for the habeas corpus. The application was made on the ground that the fugitive slave law of 1850 is unconstitutional, but the Court in its decision expressed no opinion as to the constitutionality of that enactment.
This case involved the same question of jurisdiction, which came up in the celebrated Booth case in Wisconsin. In that case the Supreme Court of the United States on the 7th of March last unanimously decided that when a person is in the custody of an officer of the United States, a State court may issue a writ of habeas corpus, and the officer having custody of the person must make his return to the writ, so far as to show that he holds him under a precept of the United States Court, but no further; and that the power of the State court is then at an end. The Supreme Court of Ohio appears to have followed this authority in the present case.
The Boston Daily Advisor
May 5, 1859
The Case of the Oberlin Rescue.
We print this morning, a report of a decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio, rendered within the past week on an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of the Oberlin rescuers. Various parties concerned in an alleged violation for the fugitive slave law had been indicted for that offence in the United States District Court for the northern district of Ohio; one of them had been tried and found guilty, and was awaiting the judgment of the Court; the others had not yet been tried. They applied to the Supreme Court of Ohio for the writ of habeas corpus, urging the unconstitutionality of the fugitive slave law as their main argument. The application was denied, but no opinion was given upon the question of unconstitutionality. The Court rest their decision on a very simple and clear principle; after showing that the case of the party awaiting judgment and sentence was yet undetermined, since the very question as to the unconstitutionality of the law then raised before the Supreme Court of Ohio, might yet be started before the District Court, and determined there in favor of the prisoners, - the Court express their decision in the words of a well-established general proposition, viz: - “that where a court of general jurisdiction and legally competent to determine its own jurisdiction, has acquired prior jurisdiction de facto over person or subject matter, no other court will interfere with, or seek to avert its action, while the case is still pending and undetermined.”
There can be no doubt that this decision is a just and proper one: if the Supreme Court of Ohio had granted the writ of habeas corpus, they would have violated sound legal principles; and if they had undertaken to pass upon the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law, they would have committed the same sort of impropriety, of which the Supreme Court at Washington was guilty in the Dred Scott case.
And yet we regret to observe that there are symptoms of a disposition on the part of some over zealous republicans to denounce this decision as corrupt and given through fear, or in the interest of slavery. This is the same tone of remark, which showed itself prominently, and to a greater extent, in reference to the recent case of S. M. Booth of Wisconsin. In reference to that case, where there could be no doubt of the right of the Supreme Court of the United States to issue a writ of error to the Wisconsin court, or of the duty of the Wisconsin court to furnish a copy of their record in obedience to that writ, and where the United States courts, in default of such compliance by the court of Wisconsin, was furnished with a copy of the record in what appears to have been a regular and proper manner, - several republican papers have uttered the sharpest language of invective against the Supreme Court: one New York journal, in particular, of great influence, and usually of great discretion, has allowed itself to indulge in this ill-judged condemnation.
It is a pity that any republican should rush thus hastily to do injustice to the judiciary. We all know how much the Supreme Court has to answer for in having published that legal monstrosity, the Dred Scott decision; it is not strange that the people and the press should greatly lose confidence in a tribunal, which has been capable of rendering the opinion or opinions given by the majority of the court in that case. We may well have our eyes opened with distrust to every opinion bearing upon the subject of slavery coming from that court. But there is no need of charging invented errors to their account, or of allowing them to assume that character of victims to popular ignorance or fanaticism. To visit them with unmerited reproaches is alike unjust to them and disgraceful to ourselves it shows that we distrust the strength of our own cause, and it adds strength to the side, which we oppose. We can afford to be just and even generous in reckoning up the sins of the present Supreme Bench of the United States; and, for our own part, we wish that the republicans might scrupulously abstain from bringing hasty charges against that or any other court.
It is especially to be deprecated that the disposition to which we refer should take the form of indiscriminate attack upon the judiciary of the State as well as the Federal courts, whenever occasion calls for a decision adverse to the popular wishes. It would seem as if the Supreme Court of Ohio might reasonably have expected a fair judgment of their motives and arguments, in rendering the decision to which we have referred. It is sheer injustice and folly to condemn their action without according them this.
The Berkshire County Eagle
June 10, 1859
Pittsfield for the Oberlin Prisoners.
A few Sabbaths since the pastor of the South Church, recommended to his Sabbath School to take a collection in behalf of the Oberlin rescuers. The school promptly responded, and the contribution was sent to Professor Morgan to dispose of. He immediately replied as follows: -
Oberlin, May 26, 1859.
Rev. R. C. Foster: -
The contribution of the South Street Sabbath School, to the imprisoned, for righteousness sake, is to me very highly gratifying, and will be quite as much so to them.
On Wednesday last, I paid a visit to them in jail, and found them, thank God, cheerful and in good health. They are glad to suffer for the sake of the afflicted and oppressed. Among them is the Superintendent of the Oberlin Sabbath School, Mr. James Fitch. To him I will send the contribution and request him to address a letter to Deacon Dunham for perusal in your Sabbath School.
This gratifying contribution is the first of the kind received, and to me it is a pleasing fact that your Sabbath School should take the lead in this recollection of “those who are in bonds.” I wish you to express to all the school my thanks, as well as those of the prisoners for this expression of the kindness of their warm young hearts.
Very truly Yours,
Here we have a venerable and careful minister of the gospel thanking God that me who are suffering from imprisonment and fine, for alleged disobedience to their country’s laws, are cheerful and glad to suffer in such a cause. – What does he mean? Is he disposed to countenance treason – to encourage the violation of law? Or has he been reading the old musty book in which obedience to God, more than to man, is inculcated? Is it not a sad truth that nine-tenths of the ministers and church members, and the most upright and humane of our people throughout the North, are ready to respond to this sentiment of Prof. Morgan? What will become of us, if the support of our laws rests mainly upon a few federal officers like Belden, the prosecutor, and Willson, the judge, and a few more selfish, unscrupulous office-seekers, joining hands with all the low, ignorant rabble that are the substratum of modern sham Democracy? Is it not time for some one to be getting up some old fashioned shrieks for the Union? Unless we can persuade such men and Professors Morgan and Peck, and the great class of religious and moral and intelligent and philanthropic men, whom they represent to go for the support of the Fugitive Slave Law here at the North, and for the violation of the law against the Slave trade at the South, we may as well prepare to see the “Union slide” first as last. Only think of men who are training our future ministry glad to find the breakers of their country’s laws cheerful and happy in enduring the penalties of disobedience!
The letter from Mr. Fitch, mentioned in Prof. Morgan’s letter, has been received by Deacon Dunham, and will be read at the Sabbath School concert next Sabbath evening, in the lecture room of the South Church.
The Berkshire County Eagle
July 15, 1859
A compromise has been agreed to in the counter prosecutions growing out of the Oberlin fugitive Slave rescue cases. The trial of the parties acting under the authority of the United States – Lowe, Mitchell, and Davis – for kidnapping was commenced at Cleveland last week, but an arrangement was made, at the suggestion of their counsel, by which nolle prosequis were entered both in their cases and those of the rescuers who still awaited trial, and all parties were discharged. The Oberlin men had no part in making the compromise, which is a backing down of the United States Government to save the Kentucky kidnappers.
The untried “rescuers” who had lain in jail eighty-four days at Cleveland, having been liberated pursuant to this arrangement, have returned to their homes in Oberlin. There were greeted with enthusiasm by their townsmen, who gathered in a church and organized a public meeting in their honor. Speeches were made by several of the liberated men, the principle one being by Professor Henry E. Peck. A unanimous determination was expressed to resist the execution of the Fugitive Slave law at all times, and the meeting adjourned at midnight, after directing the town Council to enter a minute on their records commendatory of the conduct of the “rescuers.” Father Keep presided. The audience numbered three thousand persons, and the choir, which furnished the music contained one hundred and twenty-five singers.
The term of imprisonment of the last of the sentenced “rescuers” is about to expire; so that in a few days not one of the original thirty-seven will be in confinement. Whether the Kentucky “kidnappers” will meet with an equally battering reception on their return to their “several places of abode,” remains to be seen.