Law and History Review
It is conventionally believed that neutral legal principles required antislavery judges to uphold proslavery legislation in spite of their moral convictions against slavery. Under this view, an antislavery judge who ruled on proslavery legislation was forced to choose, not between liberty and slavery, but rather between liberty and fidelity to his conception of the judicial role in a system of limited government. Focusing on the proslavery Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, this article challenges the conventional view by arguing that the constitutionality of the fugitive act was ambiguous; meaning that neutral legal principles supported a ruling against the fugitive act as well as a ruling in favor of it, and that prominent antislavery judges were influenced to uphold the act by a belief that doing so was necessary in order to preserve the Union.
Copyright © 2011, American Society for Legal History
Cambridge University Press
Schmitt, Jeffrey M., "The Antislavery Judge Reconsidered" (2011). School of Law Faculty Publications. 32.