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Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri


LAWS OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI

FREEDOM

AN ACT to enable persons held in slavery to sue for their freedom.

Sec 1.   Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the state of Missouri, That is shall be lawful for any person held in slavery to petition the circuit court, or the judge thereof in vacation, praying that such person may be permitted to sue as a poor person, and stating the ground upon which his or her calm to freedom is founded; and if, in the opinion of the court or judge, the petition contains sufficient matter to authorize the commence of a suit, such court or judge may make an order that such person be permitted to sue as a poor person to establish his or her freedom, and assign the petitioner counsel, - which order shall be endorsed on the petition. And the court or judge shall, moreover, make an order that the petitioner have reasonable liberty to attend his or her counsel and the court, when occasion may require; and that the petitioner shall not be taken or removed out of the jurisdiction of the court, nor be subject to any severity because of his or her application for freedom, - which order, if made in vacation, shall be endorsed on the petition, and a copy thereof endorsed on the writ and served on the defendant.

Sec 2.   Be it further enacted, That if the court, or the judge thereof in vacation, shall be satisfied, at the time of the presenting the petition, or at any time during the pendency of any suit instituted under the provisions of this act, that any petitioner hath been or is about to be restrained by any person from reasonable liberty of attending his or her counsel or the court, or that the petitioner is about to be removed out of the jurisdiction of the court, or that he or she hath been or is about to be subjected to any severity because of his or her application for freedom, or that any order made by the court or judge in the premises as a aforesaid has been or is about to be violated, then and in every such case, the court, or the judge thereof in vacation, may cause the petitioner to be brought before him or them by a writ of habeas corpus; and shall cause the defendant, or the person in whose possession the petitioner may be found, his or their agent, to enter into a recognizance, with a sufficient security, conditioned that the petitioner shall at all time during the pendency of the suit have reasonable liberty of attending his or her counsel, and that such petitioner shall not be removed out of the jurisdiction of the court wherein the action is to be brought or is pending, and that he or she shall not be subjected to any severity because of his or her application for freedom, - which recognizance shall be recorded and filed among the records of the court, and be deemed and taken to all intents and purposes to be a record of such court. But if the party required to enter into a recognizance as aforesaid shall refuse so to do, the court or judge shall make an order that the sheriff take possession of the petitioner and hire him or her out to the best advantage, from time to time, during the pendency of the suit; and that he take a bond from the person hiring the petitioner, in such penalty as the court shall in such order direct, and with such security as the sheriff shall approve, conditioned as directed in the recognizance of the defendant, and moreover that he will pay the hire to the sheriff at the time stipulated, and return the petitioner at the end of the time for which he or she is hired, or sooner if the action shall sooner be determined; and the sheriff shall proceed accordingly, and pay the money received for hire to the party in whose favor the suit shall be determined.

Sec. 3.   Be it further enacted, That all actions to be commenced and prosecuted under the provisions of this act, shall be in form, trespass, assault and battery, and false imprisonment, in the name of the petitioner, against the person holding him or her in slavery, or claiming him or her as a slave. And whenever any court of judge shall make an order as aforesaid, permitting any such suit to be brought, the clerk shall issue the necessary process, without charge to the petitioner: the declaration shall be in the common form of a declaration for assault and battery and false imprisonment, except that the plaintiff shall aver that before and at the time of the committing the grievances he or she was and still is a free person, and that the defendant held and detained him or her and still holds and detains in slavery, - upon which declaration the plaintiff may give in evidence any special matter; and the defendant may plead as many pleas as he may think is necessary for his defense, or he may plead the general issue, and give the special matters in evidence. And such actions shall be conducted in other respects in the same manner as the like actions between other persons, and the plaintiff may recover damages as in other cases.

Sec. 4.   Be it further enacted, That in all actions instituted under the provisions of this act, the petitioner, if he or she be a Negro or mulatto, shall be held and required to prove his or her right to freedom; but regard shall be had not only to the written evidence of his or her claim to freedom, but to such other proofs, either at law or in equity, as the very right and justice of the case may require. And if the issue be determined in favor of the petitioner, the court shall render a judgment of liberation from the defendant or defendants, and all person claiming from, through or under him, her or them.

Sec. 5.   Be it further enacted, That if any party to a suit instituted under the provisions of this act, shall feel him or herself aggrieved by the judgment of the circuit court, he or she may have and prosecute an appeal or writ of error to the supreme court, as in other cases; Provided, That if the petitioner appeal or prosecute a writ of error, he or she shall not be required to enter into a recognizance, but such appeal or writ of error shall operate as a supersedeas without such recognizance.

This act shall take effect and be in force from and after the fourth day of July next.

Approved, December 30, 1824.

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