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Ableman v. Booth

(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)

Chief Justice Robert B. Taney
served (1836-1864)

About the case:
An abolitionist, Sherman M. Booth was indicted on March 11, 1854 for helping a fugitive slave escape custody of a federal official in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Booth was arrested by U.S. Marshall Stephen Ableman. Booth requested that he be released (he argued that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional; Booth was arrested because Ableman claimed he had violated the Fugitive Slave Act), and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice A.D. Smith agreed and Booth was released. Ableman appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court where the Justice Smith's decision was upheld. Ableman then contested that no state court could make a judgement such as this so he appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

From the case:
...Sherman M. Booth charged before Winfield Smith, with having on March 11, 1854, aided and abetted, at Milwaukee, the escape of fugitive slave from deputy marshall, who had him in custody under a warrant issued by the district judge of the United States under [Fugitive Slave Act] of September 18, 1850. ...Booth made application...to A.D. Smith, one of the justices of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, for a write of habeas corpus [order bringing a person before the court] saying that he was restrained of his liberty by Stephen V.R. Ableman, marshal of the United States for that district, under the warrant of commitmet here in before mentioned; and alleging that his imprisonment was illegal, because the [Fugitive Slave Act] was unconstitutional and void. ...The case was argued before the Supreme Court of the State, which on the 19th of July pronounced judgement, affirming the decision of associate justice discharging Booth from imprisonment.

The decision:
...[I]n the judgment of this court, the act of congress commonly called the fugitive slave law is, in all of its provisions, fully authorized by the Constitution of the United States; that the commisioner had lawful authority to issue the warrent and commit the party, and that his proceedings were regular and comfortable to the law... ...The judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin must therefore be reversed.

On March 7, 1859 Chief Justice Roger Taney announced the 9-0 decision of the Court.


The Fugitive Slave Acts were repealed on June 28, 1864 by the United States Congress. The repeal states: "Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That sections three and four of an act entitled 'An Act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters,' passed February, seventeen hundred and ninety-three and an act to amend and supplementary to the act entitled 'An Act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters', passed February, seventeen hundred and ninety-three, passed September, eighteen hundred and fifty, and the same are hereby repealed."


Reference: All information on this page was found in the book: Civil Rights Decisions of the United States Supreme Court: The 19th Century.
Editors: Maureen Harrison & Steve Gilbert
Excellent Books. San Diego, CA. 1994