Stephen A Corneau (1820-1863)






Frederick Clements Case (1857) – 1 returned

  • William H. Herndon (Abraham Lincoln’s law partner) and John H. Rosette appeared as counsel for alleged fugitive Frederick Clements. Herndon’s brother, Democrat Elliot B. Herndon, represented the claimants, along with John A. McClernand. At the beginning of the initial hearing on July 31, 1857, Elliot Herndon “protested against the admission of counsel for the negro,” arguing that no provision in the law stipulated the accused had a right to legal representation. William Herndon responded that he wanted to ensure the claimant follows “the provisions of the law,” and demanded the claimant’s power of attorney. Commissioner Corneau ruled that William Herndon could remain in the hearing room, as he “was desirous of giving to every party a full and fair hearing, and he would not exclude the attorney for the negro.” [1857-08-01 Springfield, IL Daily Illinois Journal]
  • Herndon and Rosette attempted to thwart the rendition, seizing upon the claimant’s affidavit (which read “negro man slave by the name of Frederick,” instead of the “fugitive from service or labor” as contained in the Federal statute). Yet Commissioner Corneau was unswayed, ruling that “slave” and a fugitive who “owed service” were “synonymous terms,” and the intent of slaveholder Hiram McElroy, sr. in his power of attorney was “quite clear.” Corneau delivered his decision on August 1, remanding Clements to the custody of the claimants. In his decision, Corneau noted that he had allowed anti-slavery attorneys to be present “as an act of courtesy, and to advance the ends of justice.” [1857-08-03 Springfield, IL Daily Illinois Journal]
  • Following the rendition, a Springfield paper compared the state capital favorably to Chicago, where resistance had foiled multiple attempted renditions. “This was the first instance of the kind that has occurred in this city since the passage of the fugitive slave law. There is no circumstance that could be named that so strongly shows the superiority of the moral condition of Springfield over that of Chicago, as the conduct of our citizens in relation to the fugitive slave we have alluded to.” [1857-08-03 Springfield, IL Daily Illinois State Register]

Edgar Canton Case (1860)  – 1 returned

  • During the hearing, attorney William Herndon moved to postpone the hearing, which Corneau overruled; he then attempted to introduce an affidavit sworn by the alleged fugitive Edgar Canton, which Corneau also rejected. Herndon then proceeded to challenge “the existence of slavery in Missouri,” arguing that the claimants had presented no definitive proof, and “the Commissioner had no right to presume from historical knowledge that Missouri was a slave State.” Herndon “spoke at length,” noting that he was “only allowed to appear by courtesy” on Canton’s behalf; a reference to Corneau’s 1857 decision to allow anti-slavery attorneys “as an act of courtesy.” John Rosette, also representing the accused, made a similar argument. [1860-02-13 Springfield, IL Daily Illinois State Journal]
  • Canton was remanded to slavery, but escaped again and passed through Springfield in March 1860.

Harris Family Case (1861) – 4 returned

  • Missouri slaveholder Jacob Veale and members of the Patterson family obtained a warrant of arrest from Commissioner Corneau for a family of four alleged fugitives–”Onesimus” Harris, his wife and two children. In Chicago, U.S. Marshal Joseph Russell Jones acted on the warrant and seized the family, hurrying them on a southbound train to Corneau’s Springfield office, where Corneau remanded them to slavery on April 4. [1861-04-04 New York Times]