Prigg v. Pennsylvania

Facts of the Case

A woman and her children escaped from slavery in Maryland and resided in Pennsylvania. The woman gave birth to another child more than a year after her escape. Defendant forcibly seized the woman and all her children and took them to Maryland in violation of Pennsylvania law. The trial court convicted the defendant of having taken a woman and her children from Pennsylvania, with the intention of placing them into slavery in Maryland, contrary to a statute of Pennsylvania. The state supreme court affirmed, and the defendant prosecuted a writ of error.


Did Pennsylvania’s law prohibiting the extradition of Negroes to other states for the purpose of slavery violate Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution? Did the law violate the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 as applied by the Supremacy Clause?


Yes and yes. Justice Joseph Story delivered the opinion of the Court. The 1788 and 1826 Pennsylvania laws contradicted Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law. The Supremacy Clause assured that federal laws prevailed over the state laws. The decision did not wholly end asylum across state lines for slaves. Story granted that the state laws put in place by slave states to recapture slaves in free states only had to be enforced by federal officials, and not state magistrates.

Case Information

  • Citation: 41 US 539 (1842)
  • Argued: Feb 8 – 10, 1842
  • Decided Mar 1, 1842