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Kentucky v. Dennison


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24 How. (65 U.S.) 66 (1861), argued 20 Feb. 1861, decided 14 Mar. 1861 by vote of 8 to 0; Taney for the Court. In 1859 Willis Lago, a free black from Ohio, helped a Kentucky slave named Charlotte escape to Ohio. Kentucky indicted Lago for theft and Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky asked Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase to extradite Lago. Chase, an antislavery advocate, refused to comply, arguing that Lago had not committed a crime recognized by Ohio law. Magoffin waited until Chase left office in 1860 and renewed the requisition with the new Ohio governor, William Dennison, who also refused to comply. Magoffin then sought a writ of mandamus to force Dennison to act. Magoffin sued in the United States Supreme Court, under the court's original jurisdiction for cases between two states.

The case presented Chief Justice Roger B. Taney with a major dilemma. Taney was profoundly proslavery, deeply antagonistic toward the North, and desirous of settling all constitutional issues surrounding slavery in favor of the South. But with secession already in progress, Taney was loathe to rule that the Supreme Court or the federal government might have the power to force state governors to act. After chastising the Ohio governors for not cooperating with the criminal extradition clause of the Constitution, Taney ruled that the Court had no power to coerce a state to comply with its constitutional obligation. This decision remained good law until overturned by Puerto Rico v. Branstad (1987).

Paul Finkelman

Subjects: Law.


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