Henry v. State

Citation87 Miss. 1,39 So. 856
CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Decision Date22 January 1906

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

FROM the chancery court of, first district, Hinds county, HON ROBERT B. MAYES Chancellor.

This suit was begun in the name of the state of Mississippi, the appellee, by James K. Vardaman, governor of the state, as complainant, against Henry, warden of the penitentiary, and others, including the members of the board of control of the penitentiary, and Horace J. McLaurin, the appellants, as defendants. From a decree overruling a motion to dissolve a preliminary injunction which had been issued in the cause the defendants appealed to the supreme court. The facts are fully stated in the opinions.


"Attempting no review of the facts in this case, any further than is necessary to set forth my opinion, I proceed at once to a discussion of the questions involved.

"First--In the arguments of the case before me, counsel representing the defendants in the bill concede that the governor has the lawful authority to institute the proceedings in behalf of the state, and for that reason there need be no discussion of this point.

"Second--The main question in the case presented for my determination according to my view of it, is as to the validity of the order of the board of control and the contract made thereunder. In order to discuss this question it is necessary to set out in full the order of the board and to give certain portions of the contract which I will discuss. The order of the board is:

"'Resolved That the board of control work with the convicts for the year 1906 Sandy Bayou plantation, owned by H. J. McLaurin, and shall receive for their share of the crop and for the labor of the convicts $ 25,000.00 (twenty-five thousand dollars) which sum the said McLaurin guarantees to the state certain and in all events for said year; the number of convicts to be employed on same to average seventy, if so many be necessary to the proper cultivation and harvesting of the crop thereon.'

"It will be noted that the resolution of the board itself recites that the state is to receive for its 'share of the crop' and 'for the labor of the convicts' $ 25,000, 'which sum the said McLaurin guarantees to the state certain and in all events for said year.' Pursuant to this resolution of the board, it entered into the following contract with McLaurin, after reciting that it was entered into on December 5, 1905, between the state of Mississippi, acting by and through its board of control, and H. J. McLaurin--viz.:

"'First--That the board of control has agreed to work the plantation in Sharkey county, state of Mississippi, owned by the said McLaurin, and known as "Sandy Bayou," for the year 1906.

"'Second--That the said board of control shall pay to the said McLaurin, for the use of said plantation for said year, all the crops grown, raised, and gathered on said premises for said year, after the sum of $ 25,000 shall have been reserved therefrom, and the said McLaurin guarantees that the crop raised on said premises shall amount to $ 25,000, and binds himself to the said board of control in that sum, promising to make up whatever the crops grown on the said premises may fall short of that amount.

"'Third--That the said board of control shall have absolute authority over the labor employed in working said land, and that said labor shall be under the direction of said board and of the persons appointed by the board.

"'Fourth--That the said McLaurin, in addition to the land leased and furnished by him, shall also furnish the necessary mules and teams for working of said plantation, and feed for same, and shall also furnish all wagons and farming implements and planting seed.

"'Fifth--That the said board of control shall have said crops made, harvested, and gathered. This act executed in duplicate.'

"The resolution of the board provides that the state of Mississippi shall receive 'for its share of the crops and for labor of the convicts $ 25,000,' and when the contract itself is stripped of all its verbiage and made to reveal just what it is, it is a contract between the board of control of the state of Mississippi to lease to H. J. McLaurin, for the consideration of $ 25,000, paid to the state by McLaurin, seventy convicts for the year 1906, to be worked under state supervision on the private plantation of McLaurin, known as 'Sandy Bayou.' This contract is this, and no mere phraseology or adroit use of language can make it anything else, when viewed in the light of its plain stipulations and the thing agreed to be done by the state and McLaurin. McLaurin is the owner of the land, and the contract and the resolution recite that the state has leased it; and yet the lessor, McLaurin, the owner of the land, is the only one who agrees to pay rent. What is he paying the $ 25,000 to the state for? He is certainly not paying this sum to the state for the use of his own land. Then if he is not paying this sum to the state for the use of his own land, but is still paying this sum to the state for the use of something, what is it, if it is not for the use of seventy convicts to work this land 'under state supervision?'

"But this is not the only objection to this contract. Conceding that this is a lease of the plantation, and not a lease of the convicts, as above stated, it is still violative of both the spirit and the letter of the constitution. The resolution provides, and the contract stipulates in express terms, that McLaurin shall have all that the labor of the convicts produces on the plantation, over and above $ 25,000 reserved to the state for the use of convicts, thereby giving to McLaurin, a private individual, a direct interest in the labor of the convicts, a thing that is expressly prohibited by the constitution. If there is one thing in the constitution that is plain, it is that no individual citizen shall have any interest of gain or loss, individually, in the labor of the convicts. If there was one thing that the constitution aimed at, it was the humane treatment of its convicts, and the taking away from each and every individual of the commonwealth any private interest in the labor of convicts, thereby taking away the inducement that any one might ever have to work them excessively and, for purposes of gain to themselves, grow rich upon the sweat and blood of these unfortunates. Let us examine the sections of the constitution bearing upon this subject, and it will be seen that this conclusion is inescapable. Section 223 of the constitution provides that 'no penitentiary convict shall ever be leased or hired to any person or persons, or corporation, private or public, or quasi public, or board, after December 31, 1894, save as authorized in the next section.' Section 224, which is the next section, expressly referred to in section 223, says 'the legislature may authorize the employment, under state supervision and proper officers and employes of the state, of convicts on public roads, or other public works, or by any levee board of any public levees,' etc. It will thus be seen by those two sections that leasing the convicts to any private person is expressly prohibited by section 223, and when not worked according to the scheme outlined by this section they can only be worked according to section 224, which provides that they can then only be worked on public works, and this under state supervision; and, as if to emphasize the fact that there can be no private interest in the convicts by any individual of the commonwealth, the same section of the constitution, a little further down, says, 'but said convicts shall not be let or hired to any contractors under said board,' speaking with reference to any levee board working on public levees. It will thus be seen that, even though the convicts may be worked on public works, so careful was the constitution to guard against any individual of the commonwealth having any interest of gain in the labor of the convicts that it prohibits the letting or hiring of convicts to any contractor working for the board even on public works.

"But it was argued to me, and the contract and the order of the board of control recite, that the board of control shall have absolute authority over the labor employed in working the said land. The constitution plainly says that there shall be no leasing or hiring to any private individual, with or without the board of control retaining authority over the convicts, and, even though the order of the board retains this, it is none the less prohibited by the constitution. There shall not be created in any individual of the state even the inducement to coerce convict labor. There are just four of these sections of the constitution on penitentiary and prisons, the manifest purpose and object of all of them looking to a more humane treatment of the convicts than had existed in the state when private letting was permissible. So cruel and inhumane had been the treatment of the convicts in many instances when private individuals were permitted to lease them, and thereby become interested in convict labor that the constitutional convention placed it in the fundamental law of the state that never again should private individuals become in any way interested personally in the labor of the convicts, because this interest of personal gain led to all the cruelties that had theretofore existed. To this end the state reserved to itself the dominion and authority over the convicts. It was the policy of the state to work them under guards hired and paid by itself, the pay of whom was in no way dependent upon the production of the convict. When it authorized them to be worked in any...

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  • Henry v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • January 22, 1906

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