The first class of claims were found chiefly in Northern States; the second chiefly in Sourthern. There was a great disparity between the numbers of the two classes. While the claims to service or labor for years numbered but a few thousands, there were then held to service or labor for life 500,000 or 600,000 persons, and the number has since increased to about 4,000,000.
The constitutional provision is, that persons from whom, under the laws of any one State, service or labor is due, shall not be exonerated from the performance of the same by the laws of any other State to which they may escape. The apprentice or the slave shall, in that case, on demand of the proper claimant, be delivered up.
Such a provision involves the recognition of certain rights of property; but of what kind?
Is the ownership of one human being by another here involved? Is the apprentice or the slave recognized in this clause as an article of merchandise?
State laws, regulating apprenticeship and slavery, may give tot he master of the apprentice, or of the slave, the custody of the person, and the right of corporal punishment, in order the better to insure the performance of the labor due. These laws may declare that an apprentice, or a slave, who strikes his master shall suffer death. They may provide that the testimony of an apprentice, or of a slave, shall not be received in any court of justice as evidence against his master. They may make the claims to service or labor, whether for years or for life, transferable by ordinary sale. They may declare such claims to be, under certain circumstances, of the nature of real estate. They may enact that these claims shall be hereditary, both as regards the claimant and the person held to service, so that heirs shall inherit them-and, also, so that the children of apprentices, or of slaves, shall, in virtue of their birth be apprentices or slaves. They may deny to the slave, or to the apprentice, during the term of slavery or of apprenticeship, legal marriage, education, the ownership of property, real and personal. But Slave laws and State constitutions, whatever their varying provisions, cannot modify or affect, expressly or by implication, the Constitution of the United States. They have no power, direct or indirect, over it. It controls them. The Supreme Court has decided that "the Government of the Union, though limited in its power, is supreme within its sphere of action;" and again, paraphrasing the Constitution itself, that "the laws of the United States, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." a
Therefore, no State action can add to or taken from the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, State laws and State constitutions, valid within their own municipal jurisdiction, are without force within the proper sphere of Federal authority. They can neither determine the interpretation of the Federal Constitution, nor serve as commentary or explanation of its intent. It is an authority superior to theirs, and it is to be interpreted by the words, fairly and candily construed, of its framers.
These words deny to any State the right either to pass laws or regulations discharging from service or labor inhabitants of another State held to such service, who may have escaped therefrom, or to refuse to the proper claimant of such service the surrender of the
a McCulloch against the State of Maryland (4 Wheaton's Reports, p.316; Constitution of the United States, Sec. 6.)