The Law School Authority

Prigg v. Pennsylvania Case Brief

Summary of Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)

Penn. statute barred self-help in the return of slaves.  Prigg is a slave owner who was convicted in a criminal case under Penn law for trying to get his fugitive slave back.  Prigg appeals conviction based on theory that Penn law in unconstitutional [Constitution, Article IV § 2[3] allows a slave owner to reclaim a fugitive slave from a free state].

1. Held: Federal law trumps state law

2. This clause reflects the compromise part of the constitution

3. Justice Story: This clause is self-executing, meaning no additional legislation is needed by Congress.  Thus, since clause is self-executing, one can exercise self-help

a. Clause is very clear (like the prez must be 35 years old)

b. Majority’s approach reflects that this clause was a compromise

4. Justice Tawny (concurrence): Agrees w/ result, but believes that states should be able to legislate.  Sees this as a compromise b/t states.

5. Justice McLean (dissent): Fugitive Slave Act does not address self-help.  Process set up by Fed Govt in which owner was to go to the magistrate or federal judge ? need a hearing.  Thus, self-help not allowed


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