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LEE V. LEE, 33 U. S. 44 (1834)

U.S. Supreme Court

Lee v. Lee, 33 U.S. 8 Pet. 44 44 (1834)

Lee v. Lee

33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 44


The plaintiffs in error filed a petition for freedom in the Circuit Court of the United States for the County of Washington, and they proved that they were born in the State of Virginia as slaves of Richard B. Lee, now deceased, who moved with his family into the County of Washington in the District of Columbia about the year 1816, leaving the petitioners residing in Virginia as his slaves, until the year 1820, when the petitioner Barbara was removed to the county of Alexandria in the District of Columbia, where she was hired to Mrs. Muir, and continued with her thus hired for the period of one year. That the petitioner Sam was in like manner removed to the County of Alexandria and was hired to General Walter Jones for a period of about five or six months. That after the expiration of the said periods of hiring, the petitioners were removed to the said County of Washington, where they continued to reside as the slaves of the said Richard B. Lee until his death, and since as the slaves of his widow, the defendant.

On the part of the defendant in error, a preliminary objection was made to the jurisdiction of this Court growing out of the Act of Congress of 2 April, 1816, which declares that no cause shall be removed from the circuit court for the District of Columbia to the Supreme Court by appeal or writ of error unless the matter in dispute shall be of the value of one thousand dollars or upwards.

By the Court:

"The matter in dispute in this case is the freedom of the petitioners. The judgment of the court below is against their claims to freedom; the matter in dispute is therefore, to the plaintiffs in error, the value of their freedom,"

and this is not susceptible of a pecuniary valuation. Had the judgment been in favor of the petitioners and the writ of error brought by the party claiming to be the owner, the value of the slaves as property would have been the matter in dispute, and affidavits might be admitted to ascertain such value. But affidavits estimating the value of freedom are entirely inadmissible, and no doubt is entertained of the jurisdiction of the Court.

The circuit court refused to instruct the jury that if it should believe from the evidence that the bringing the petitioners from Virginia to Alexandria, by their owner and hiring them there was merely colorable, with intent to evade the law, that then the petitioners are entitled to their freedom.

By the Maryland law of 1796, it is declared, that it shall not be lawful to import or bring into this state by land or water, any negro, mulatto, or other slave for sale or to reside within this state. And any person brought into this state as a slave, contrary to this act, if a slave before, shall thereupon cease to be the property of the person so importing, and shall be free.

And by the Act of Congress of 27 February, 1801, it is provided that the laws of the State of Maryland as they then existed should be and continue in force in that part of the District, which was ceded by that state to the United States.

Page 33 U. S. 45

The Maryland law of 1796 is therefore in force in the County of Washington, and the petitioners, if brought directly from the State of Virginia into the County of Washington, would, under the provisions of that law, be entitled to their freedom.

By the Act of Congress of 24 June, 1812, it is declared

"That hereafter it shall be lawful for any inhabitant or inhabitants in either of the said counties [Washington and Alexandria] owning and possessing any slave or slaves therein to remove the same from one county into the other, and to exercise freely and fully all the rights of property in and over the said slave or slaves therein which would be exercised over him, her, or them in the county from whence the removal was made."

The court erred in refusing to give the fourth instruction prayed on the part of the petitioners. All that was asked by this instruction was to submit to the jury whether from the evidence the bringing of the petitioners from Virginia to Alexandria and the hiring them there was not merely colorable, with intent to evade the law.

When the intention with which an act is done becomes the subject of inquiry, it belongs exclusively to the jury to decide.

Whatever is done in fraud of law is done in violation of it.

The cases of United States v. Quincy, 6 Pet. 466, and 15 U. S. 2 Wheat. 148, 15 U. S. 153, cited.

In the opinion of the Court the facts are fully stated.

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