John Gordon v. James Longest

Decision Date01 January 1842
Citation41 U.S. 97,16 Pet. 97,10 L.Ed. 900
PartiesJOHN GORDON, Plaingiff in error, v. JAMES LONGEST, Defendant in error
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

ERROR to the Court of Appeals of the state of Kentucky. In the Jefferson circuit court of the state of Kentucky, James Longest, of the state of Kentucky, instituted an action against John Gordon, to recover the value of a certain slave belonging to him, which John Gordon, who was commander of the steamboat Guyandotte, then proceeding from Louisville, up the Ohio river, to Cincinnati, was alleged to have taken on board the Gyandotte, from the Indiana shore or side of the Ohio, as a passenger to Cincinnati.

John Gordon was a citizen of the state of Pennsylvania; and proceeding according to the provisions of the judiciary act of 1789, he claimed before the circuit court of Jefferson county, to remove the cause to the circuit court of the United States for the district of Kentucky. The declaration filed in the case, in the Jefferson circuit court, claimed damages in $1000. The circuit court decided, that it did not appear that the amount in controversy in the suit exceeded $500, exclusive of costs; and refused to allow the removal of the cause to the circuit court of the United States. The case came on for trial on the 21st day of March 1838; and a jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff, for $650, on which judgment was entered for the plaintiff.

On the trial, the defendant asked the court to instruct the jury——

1. That so much of the act entitled 'an act to amend an act to prevent masters of vessels and others from employing and removing persons of color from this state,' approved February 12th, 1828, as is in the following words, to wit: 'Be it further enacted, that the liabilities under the said act shall accrue, whenever the person of color shall be taken on board any steam-vessel, from the shore of the Ohio river, opposite the state, to the same extent as if they were taken on board from the shores or rivers within the state,' is not within the constitutional power of the legislature of the state of Kentucky, under the constitution of the United States.

2. That under the constitution and laws of the United States, a steamboat-captain navigating the Ohio river, is not guilty of a breach of duty, by taking persons of color from the Indiana shore, and transporting them in their steamboats; provided such captain shall, in good faith, believe such persons of color are free; and that the act of the Kentucky legislature, if to the contrary, is unconstitutional and void.

3. If the jury believe from the evidence, that the negro was taken from the Indiana shore by the plaintiff, in good faith, believing him to be free, and that he was taken by the plaintiff as a passenger, in the navigation of his boat; that in such case, the jury ought to find for the defendant the issue in the case.

4. That although persons of color in Kentucky are in law presumed to be slaves, they are in Indiana presumed, prim a facie, to be free; and if the plaintiff took the slave from the Indiana shore, in good faith, and under the belief that he was free, and that he was taken by the defendant, as a passenger, in the navigation of the said boat; that in such case, the jury ought to find for the defendant.

5. That if the defendant was a citizen of the state of Ohio, residing there, and the steamboat Guyandotte, of which he was commander, did belong to the port of Cincinnati in said state; and the negro Jim did come on board said boat, at the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, and the said Gordon acted in good faith, and did not know that the said negro Jim was a slave, that then he is not liable to pay damages to the plaintiff, for having permitted the said slave to come on board the boat and having taken him on board said boat to Cincinnati, in the state of Ohio.

6. That if the jury believe from the evidence, that the slave Jim was taken on board the Guyandotte, from the state of Indiana, the plaintiff cannot recover in this action.

7. If the jury believe from the evidence, that the defendant, in the navigation of his boat, took the slave in the declaration mentioned, from the Indiana shore, believing him to be free, and that slave was, at the time, a runaway slave of plaintiff, in that case they find for defendant.

8. That to enable the plaintiff to recover in this action, the jury must believe that the defendant took plaintiff's slave from Louisville, or from the Kentucky shore. The court refused to give those instructions.

On the motion of the counsel for the plaintiff, the court instructed the jury, that if they found from the evidence, that the defendant was master of the steamboat Guyandotte, put out his yawl, when opposite to Jeffersonville, in the state of Indiana, took the plaintiff's negro on board, and carried him to Cincinnati, in the state of Ohio, and that he was lost to the plaintiff, the defendant was liable in this action; and they ought to find for the plaintiff all the damages he had sustained.

To which opinions of the court, in refusing to give the instructions asked, and in giving the instructions for the plaintiff, the defendant excepted; and he prayed an appeal to the court of appeals of the state of Keutucky. Before the court of appeals, the appellant assigned for error, among others, the following:

1. The court erred in refusing to remove this cause to the federal court, upon the petition of the appellant, filed on his first entering his appearance to the suit. The appellant claims that he had a right to a trial in the United States court, and that the whole proceedings in this cause, subsequent to the application to remove, are against law.

2. The circuit court erred in each and every instruction given on the trial, at the instance of the plaintiff.

3. The court erred in refusing to give each and every instruction asked by the appellant, Gordon, on the last trial.

4. The circuit court has, in violation of the constitution of the United States and of an act of congress, clung to a jurisdiction that did not rightfully belong to a state court, and on the trial of the cause, given instructions in violation of the constitution of the United States, and the appellant relies upon each and every article of the constitution of the United States for a reversal.

The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, and the plaintiff in that court prosecuted this writ of error.

The case was argued by Crittenden, for the plaintiff in error; Benton appeared for the defendant.

The opinion of the court was given on the first exception to the decision of the court of appeals of the state of Kentucky; and on no other question in this case. The argument of the counsel for the plaintiff in error, on the other exceptions, is, therefore, omitted.

Crittenden contended, that, by the 11th and 12th sections of the judiciary act of 1789, the plaintiff in error had a right to a trial before a court of the United States. The statute gives the right to remove a cause from a state court to a federal court, if the defendant is a citizen of another state from that in which the suit may be brought; when the value in controversy exceeds $500. The plaintiff's declaration claims damages to the amount of $1000, and the verdict was...

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