48 U.S. 1 (1849), Luther v. Borden

Citation:48 U.S. 1, 12 L.Ed. 581
Party Name:MARTIN LUTHER, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR, v. LUTHER M. BORDEN ET AL. DEFENDANTS IN ERROR. [*] RACHEL LUTHER, COMPLAINANT, v. LUTHER M. BORDEN ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
Case Date:January 03, 1849
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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48 U.S. 1 (1849)

12 L.Ed. 581

MARTIN LUTHER, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR,

v.

LUTHER M. BORDEN ET AL. DEFENDANTS IN ERROR. [*]

RACHEL LUTHER, COMPLAINANT,

v.

LUTHER M. BORDEN ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

United States Supreme Court.

January 03, 1849

THESE two cases came up from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island, the former by a writ of error, and the latter by a certificate of division in opinion. As the allegations, evidence, and arguments were the same in both, it is necessary to state those only of the first. They were argued at the preceding term of the court, and held under advisement until the present.

Martin Luther, a citizen of the State of Massachusetts, brought an action of trespass quare clausum fregit against the defendants, citizens of the State of Rhode Island, for breaking and entering the house of Luther, on the 29th of June, 1842. The action was brought in October, 1842.

At November term, 1842, the defendants filed four pleas in justification, averring, in substance,----

An insurrection of men in arms to overthrow the government of the State by military force

That, in defence of the government, martial law was declared by the General Assembly of the State.

That the plaintiff was aiding and abetting said insurrection. That at the time the trespasses were committed, the State was under martial law, and the defendants were enrolled in the fourth company of infantry in the town of Warren, under the command of J. T. Child.

That the defendants were ordered to arrest the plaintiff, and, if necessary, to break and enter his dwelling-house.

That it was necessary, and they did break and enter, &c., doing as little injury as possible, &c., and searched said house, &c.

To these pleas there was a general replication and issue.

The cause came on for trial at November term, 1843, when the jury, under the rulings of the court, found a verdict for

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the defendants. During the trial, the counsel for the plaintiff took a bill of exceptions, which was as follows:

At the period of the American Revolution, Rhode Island did not, like the other States, adopt a new constitution, but continued the form of government established by the charter of Charles the Second, making only such alternations, by acts of the Legislature, as were necessary to adapt it to their condition and rights as an independent State.

But no mode of proceeding was pointed out by which amendments might be made.

In 1841 a portion of the people held meetings and formed associations, which resulted in the election of a convention to form a new constitution, to be submitted to the people for their adoption or rejection.

This convention framed a constitution, directed a vote to be taken upon it, declared afterwards that it had been adopted and ratified by a majority of the people of the State, and was the paramount law and constitution of Rhode Island.

Under it, elections were held for Governor, members of the Legislature, and other officers, who assembled together in May, 1842, and proceeded to organize the new government.

But the charter government did not acquiesce in these proceedings. On the contrary, it passed stringent laws, and finally passed an act declaring the State under martial law.

In May, 1843, a new constitution, which had been framed by a convention called together by the charter government, went into operation, and has continued ever since.

The question which of the two opposing governments was the legitimate one, viz. the charter government, or the government established by the voluntary convention, has not heretofore been regarded as a judicial one in any of the State courts. The political department has always determined whether a proposed constitution or amendment was ratified or not by the people of the State, and the judicial power has followed its decision.

The courts of Rhode Island have decided in favor of the validity of the charter government, and the courts of the United States adopt and follow the decisions of the State courts in questions which concern merely the constitution and laws of the State.

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The question whether or not a majority of those persons entitled to suffrage voted to adopt a constitution cannot be settled in a judicial proceeding.

The Constitution of the United States has treated the subject as political in its nature, and placed the power of recognizing a State government in the hands of Congress. Under the existing legislation of Congress, the exercise of this power by courts would be entirely inconsistent with that legislation.

The President of the United States is vested with certain power by an act of Congress, and in this case he exercised that power by recognizing the charter government.

Although no State could establish a permanent military government, yet it may use its military power to put down an armed insurrection, too strong to be controlled by the civil authority. The State must determine for itself what degree of force the crisis demands.

After martial law was declared, an officer might lawfully arrest any one who he had reasonable grounds to believe was engaged in the insurrection, or order a house to be forcibly entered. But no more force can be used than is necessary to accomplish the object; and if the power is exercised for the purposes of oppression, or any injury wilfully done to person or property, the party by whom, or by whose order, it is committed would undoubtedly be answerable.

RHODE ISLAND DISTRICT, sc.:

MARTIN LUTHER

v.

LUTHER M. BORDEN ET ALS.

OPINION

Circuit Court of the United States, November Term, 1843.

Be it remembered, that, upon the trial of the aforesaid issue before said jury, duly impanelled to try the same,----

The defendants offered in evidence, in support of their first, second, and third pleas:----

1st. The charter of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and the acceptance of the same at a very great meeting and assembly of all the freemen of the then Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, legally called and held at Newport, in the said Colony, on the 24th day of November, A. D. 1663.

That on the 25th day of November, A. D. 1663, the former lawful colonial government of the said Colony dissolved itself, and the said charter became and was henceforth the fundamental law or rule of government for said Colony. That, under and by virtue of said charter, and the acceptance thereof as aforesaid, the government of said Colony was duly organized, and by due elections was continued, and exercised all the powers of government granted by it, and was recognized by the inhabitants of said Colony, and by the king of Great Britain and his successors, as the true and lawful government of said Colony, until the 4th day of July, A. D. 1776.

That the General Assembly of said Colony, from time to time, elected and appointed delegates to the General Congress of the delegates of the several Colonies of North America, held in the years 1774, 1775, and 1776, and to the Congress of the United States of America, in the years 1776 and 1778. And that said delegates of said Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations were received by, and acted with, the delegates from the other Colonies and States of America, in Congress assembled, as the delegates representing the said Colony and State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; and that on the 4th day of July, A. D. 1776, said delegates of the said Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations united with the delegates of the other Colonies as representatives of the United States of America, and as such assented to and signed in behalf of said Colony the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America.

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That afterward, to wit, at the July session of the General Assembly of said State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, said General Assembly, by resolution thereof, did approve the said Declaration of Independence made by the Congress aforesaid, and did most solemnly engage that they would support the said General Congress in the said Declaration with their lives and fortunes.

That afterwards, to wit, on the 9th day of July, 1778, the said State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, by her delegates duly authorized thereunto, became a party to the articles of confederation and perpetual union between the States of New Hampshire. Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and ratified and confirmed the same; and, as one of the United States of America under said articles of confederation and perpetual union, was received, recognized, and acted with and by the other States of the said confederation, and by the United States of America in Congress assembled, during the continuation of said confederacy.

That after the dissolution of said confederacy, to wit, on the 29th day of May, A. D. 1790, said State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in convention duly called, elected, and assembled under an act of the General Assembly of said State, ratified the Constitution of the United States, and under the same became, and ever since has been, one of the said United States, and as such, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and of the said State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, hath ever elected and sent, and doth now send, Senators and Representatives to the Congress of the United States, who have been since, and now are, received and recognized as such by the said United States, and in...

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