Pennsylvania Personal Liberty Law (1826)

An act to give effect to the provisions of the constitution of the United States relative to fugitives from labor, for the protection of free people of color, and prevent kidnapping.

1. If any person or persons shall, from and after the passing of this act, by force and violence, take and carry away, or cause to be taken or carried away, and shall, by fraud or false pretence, seduce, or cause to be seduced, or shall attempt so to take, carry away or seduce, any negro or mulatto, from any part or parts of this commonwealth, to any other place or places whatsoever, out of this commonwealth, with a design and intention of selling and disposing of, or of causing to be sold, or of keeping and detaining, or of causing to be kept and detained, such negro or mulatto, as a slave or servant for life, or for any term whatsoever, every such person or persons, his or their aiders or abettors, shall on conviction thereof, in any court of this commonwealth having competent jurisdiction, be deemed guilty of a felony, and shall forfeit and pay, at the discretion of the court [41 U.S. 539, 551]   passing the sentence, a sum not less than five hundred, nor more than one thousand dollars, one-half whereof shall be paid to the person or persons who shall prosecute for the same, and the other half to this commonwealth; and moreover, shall be sentenced to undergo a servitude for any term or terms not less than seven years, nor exceeding twenty-one years, and shall be confined and kept to hard labor, fed and clothed in the manner as is directed by the penal laws of this commonwealth for persons convicted of robbery.

2. If any person or persons shall, hereafter, knowingly sell, transfer or assign, or shall, knowingly, purchase, take or transfer an assignment of any negro or mulatto, for the purpose of fraudulently removing, exporting or carrying said negro or mulatto out of this state, with the design or intent, by fraud or false pretences, of making him or her a slave or servant for life, or for any term whatsoever, every person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and on conviction thereof, shall forfeit and pay a fine of not less than five hundred dollars, nor more than two thousand dollars, one-half whereof shall be paid to the person or persons who shall prosecute for the same, and the other half to the commonwealth; and moreover, shall be sentenced, at the discretion of the court, to undergo a servitude for any term or time not less than seven years, nor exceeding twenty-one years, and shall be confined, kept to hard labor, fed and clothed in the same manner as is directed by the penal laws of this commonwealth for persons convicted of robbery.

3. When a person held to labor or servitude in any of the United States, or in either of the territories thereof, under the laws thereof, shall escape into this commonwealth, the person to whom such labor or service is due, his or her duly authorized agent or attorney, constituted in writing, is hereby authorized to apply to any judge, justice of the peace or alderman, who, on such application, supported by the oath or affirmation of such claimant, or authorized agent or attorney as aforesaid, that the said fugitive hath escaped from his or her service, or from the service of the person for whom he is duly constituted agent or attorney, shall issue his warrant, under his hand and seal, and directed to the sheriff, or any constable of the proper city or county, authorizing and empowering said sheriff or constable, to [41 U.S. 539, 552]   arrest and seize the said fugitive, who shall be named in said warrant, and to bring said fugitive before a judge of the proper county, which said warrant shall be in the form or to the following effect:

    ‘State of Pennsylvania, _____ county, ss.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the sheriff or any constable of _____ county, greeting: Whereas, it appears by the oath, or solemn affirmation, of _____ _____, that _____ _____, was held to labor or service to _____ _____, of _____ county, in the state of _____, and the said _____ _____ hath escaped from the labor and service of the said _____ _____: You are therefore commanded, to arrest and seize the body of the said _____ _____, if he be found in your county, and bring him forthwith before the person issuing the warrant, if a judge (or if a justice of the peace or alderman) before a judge of the court of common pleas, or of the district court, as the case may be, of your proper county, or recorder of a city, so that the truth of the matter may be inquired into, and the said _____ _____ be dealt with as the constitution of the United States, and the laws of this commonwealth direct. Witness our said judge (or alderman, or justice, as the case may be), at this ___ day of _____, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and _____.

By virtue of such warrant the person named therein may be arrested by the proper sheriff or constable to whom the same shall be delivered, within the proper city or county.

4. No judge, justice of the peace or alderman shall issue a warrant on the application of any agent or attorney, as provided in the said third section, unless the said agent or attorney shall, in addition to his own oath or affirmation, produce the affidavit of the claimant of the fugitive, taken before and certified by a justice of the peace or other magistrate authorized to administer oaths, in the state or territory in which such claimant shall reside, and accompanied by the certificate of the authority of such justice or other magistrate, to administer oaths, signed by the clerk or prothonotary, and authenticated by the seal of a court of record, in such state or territory; which affidavit shall state the [41 U.S. 539, 553]   said claimant’s title to the service of such fugitive, and also the name, age and description of the person of such fugitive.

5. It shall be the duty of any judge, justice of the peace or alderman, when he grants or issues any warrant under the provisions of the third section of this act, to make a fair record on his docket of the same, in which he shall enter the name and place of residence of the person on whose oath or affirmation the said warrant may be granted; and also, if an affidavit shall have been produced under the provisions of the fourth section of this act, the name and place of residence of the person making such affidavit, and the age and description of the person of the alleged fugitive contained in such affidavit, and shall, within ten days thereafter, file a certified copy thereof in the office of the clerk of the court of general quarter sessions of the peace, or mayor’s court of the proper city or county; and any judge, justice of the peace or alderman who shall refuse or neglect to comply with the provisions of this section, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor in office, and shall, on conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay, at the discretion of the court, any sum not exceeding one thousand dollars, one-half to the party prosecuting for the same, and the other half to the commonwealth. And any sheriff or constable, receiving and executing the said warrant, shall, wlthout unnecessary delay, carry the person arrested before the judge, according to the exigency of the warrant. And any sheriff or constable, who shall refuse or wilfully neglect so to do, shall, on conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay, at the discretion of the court, any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, one-half to the party prosecuting for the same, and the other half to the commonwealth, or shall also be sentenced to imprisonment, at hard labor, for a time not exceeding six months, or both.

6. The said fugitive from labor or service, when so arrested, shall be brought before a judge as aforesaid, and upon proof, to the satisfaction of such judge, that the person so seized or arrested doth, under the laws of the state or authority from which she or he fled from service or labor, to the person claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such judge to give a certificate thereof to such claimant, his or her duly authorized agent or attorney, which shall be sufficient warrant for removing the said fugitive to the state or territory from which she or he fled: [41 U.S. 539, 554]   Provided, that the oath of the owner or owners, or other person interested, shall in no case be received in evidence before the judge, on the hearing of the case.

7. When the fugitive shall be brought before the judge, agreeably to the provisions of this act, and either party allege and prove to the satisfaction of the said judge, that he or she is not prepared for trial, and have testimony material to the matter in controversy, that can be obtained in a reasonable time, it shall and may be lawful, unless security, satisfactory to the said judge, be given for the appearance of the said fugitive, on a day certain, to commit the said fugitive to the common jail for safe-keeping there to be detained at the expense of the owner, agent or attorney, for such time as the judge shall think reasonable and just, and to a day certain, when the said fugitive shall be brought before him by habeas corpus in the courthouse of the proper county, or in term-time, at the chamber of the said judge, for final hearing and adjudication: Provided, that if the adjournment of the hearing be requested by the claimant, his agent or attorney, such adjournment shall not be granted, unless the said claimant, his agent or attorney, shall give security, satisfactory to the judge, to appear and prosecute his claim, on the day to which the hearing shall be adjourned: Provided, that on the hearing last mentioned, if the judge committing the said fugitive, or taking the security as aforesaid, should be absent, sick, or otherwise unable to attend, it shall be the duty of either of the other judges, on notice given, to attend to the said hearing, and to decide thereon.

8. The officer which may or shall be employed in the execution of the duties of this act shall be allowed the same fees for service of process that sheriffs within this commonwealth are now allowed for serving process in criminal cases, and two dollars and fifty cents per day for each and every day necessarily spent in performing the duties enjoined on them by this acts to be paid by the owner, agent or attorney, immediately on the performance of the duties aforesaid.

9. No alderman or justice of the peace of this commonwealth shall have jurisdiction or take cognisance of the case of any fugitive from labor from any of the United States or territories, under a certain act of congress, passed on the tenth day of February 1793, [41 U.S. 539, 555]   entitled ‘an act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters;’ nor shall any alderman or justice of the peace of this commonwealth issue or grant any certificate or warrant of removal of any such fugitive from labor as aforesaid, except in the manner and to the effect provided in the third section of this act, upon the application, affidavit or testimony of any person or persons whatsoever, under the said act of congress, or under any other law, authority or act of the congress of the United States; and if any alderman or justice of the peace of this commonwealth shall, contrary to the provision of this act, take cognisance or jurisdiction of the case of any such fugitive as aforesaid, except in the manner hereinbefore provided, or shall grant or issue any certificate or warrant of removal as aforesaid, then and in either case, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor in office, and shall, on conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay, at the discretion of the court, any sum not less than five hundred dollars, nor exceeding one thousand dollars, one-half thereof, to the party prosecuting for the same, and the other half to the use of the commonwealth.

10. It shall be the duty of the judge or recorder of any court of record in this commonwealth, when he grants or issues any certificate or warrant of removal of any negro or mulatto claimed to be a fugitive from labor to the state or territory from which he or she fled, in pursuance of an act of congress passed the 12th day of February 1793, entitled ‘an act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters,’ and of this act, to make a fair record of the same, in which he shall enter the age, name, sex and general description of the person of the negro or mulatto for whom he shall grant such certificate or warrant of removal, together with the evidence and the name of the places of residence of the witnesses, and the party claiming such negro or mulatto, and shall, within ten days thereafter, file a certified copy thereof in the office of the clerk of the court of general quarter sessions of the peace, or mayor’s court of the city or county in which he may reside.

11. Nothing in this act contained shall be construed as a repeal or alteration of any part of an act of assembly passed the first day of March, 1780, [41 U.S. 539, 556]   entitled ‘an act for the gradual abolition of slavery,’ except the eleventh section of said act, which is hereby repealed and supplied nor of any part of an act of assembly passed on the 28th day of March 1788, entitled ‘an act to explain and amend an act for the gradual abolition of slavery,’ except the 7th section of this last-mentioned act, which is hereby supplied and repealed.

(Source:  Quoted in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/41/539.html#sthash.dsQ9OZKi.dpuf)


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