[30 January 1797]
Swanwick (Pennsylvania) presented the petition of four manumitted slaves from North Carolina, requesting that Congress interpose whatever authority it could to relieve them and their families from harassment and efforts to return them to slavery (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 2d sess., 2015–18).
Mr. Madison would be sorry to throw an obstacle in the way of any petition that should come before the house; but if on its face this petition carried evidence that it should not have come thither, he conceived he was right in endeavouring to save the house from entering on a subject which did not come within their purview;1 the petitioners declare they were slaves in N. Carolina, and that they were redeemed, or made free; on the other hand it is said this manumission was contrary to law; this question then can only be determined in N. Carolina, where the petitioners can have redress if they are aggrieved, and there only, since the law already passed by congress is calculated to secure the property of persons of the description that suffer by the flight of slaves; it is not the business nor the province of Congress to interdict laws, much less the laws of a particular State, he was for letting the petition lie on the table.
Merchants’ Daily Advertiser, 31 Jan. 1797 (also reported in American Senator, 2:293).
1. On 23 Jan. 1797 Jacob and Jupiter Nicholson, Job Albert, and Turner Pritchett, four manumitted slaves from North Carolina, had petitioned Congress to complain of being deprived of their freedom by “men of cruel disposition, and void of just principle … violently seizing, imprisoning, and selling into slavery such as had been emancipated.” The four men had sought refuge in Philadelphia, but their families remaining in North Carolina had been reenslaved. They also appealed on behalf of an unnamed North Carolina freedman who was being held in Philadelphia under the 1790 Fugitive Slave Law. The House voted 50 to 33 against receiving the petition (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 2d sess., 2024; for a discussion of hardening attitudes toward free blacks in North Carolina, see Ira Berlin, Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South [New York, 1974], pp. 92, 93, 95–96; and John Hope Franklin, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790–1860 [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1943], pp. 20–21).