Antonio Fuertes Dr. Amy Baehr Philosophy of Law 04/12/2013 Introduction: United States vs. Morris is one of the famous cases that led to nullification of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1864. Shadrach escaped from slavery in 1850 in Norfolk, Virginia and made his way to Boston…
During the proceedings, a large crowd burst into the court room and invited Shadrach to accompany them out. Eventually, Shadrach managed to escape to Canada. However, eight of his alleged rescuers, four whites and four blacks, were arrested and were charged with the violation of the Fugitive Slave Law by aiding the escape of the slave. Despite taking oath and promising to abide the law, the jurors handling this case acquitted the defendants and declared the Fugitive Slave Law null and void. This essay examines this issue in the light of the perspectives of earlier theories of law (the natural law, positivism and realism) and the perspectives of more recent theorists (Dworkin, critical legal theorists and Feinberg). Though they keep to different perspectives, these theorists, in various ways, support the fact that the critical jurors did the right thing by acquitting the defendants on the base that they were not guilty. Discussion Natural law theorists such as Aquinas argue that laws should be perceived to be derived from a divine providence. One of the natural law theorists, Blackstone, believed that natural law is build up on moral principles which originate from and are dictated by God himself (George 175). As such, it is superior to all other laws and it is binding over all societies globally, at all times. According to him, any human laws that contradict moral standards are of no validity. Feinberg (3) further asserts that judges in such hard cases have to appeal to natural justice especially where the law is indeterminate. Therefore, the common laws are mostly based on the moral law from which they try to maintain moral standards in the society. Aquinas, another natural law theorist, supported this view, arguing that all human laws must reflect morality; morality is considered universal given that it stems from the divine. According to Aquinas, human beings are rational creatures with conscience that has an imprint from the divine and enables them to determine what is right or wrong (George 176). Thus, human laws should be developed naturally from conscience and morality. From the view of the natural theorists, laws that are meant to discriminate a group or groups of people, on the basis of color, gender or race are not laws, but mere violence; any kind of unreasonableness that threatens fairness is in contradiction with natural law (Feinberg, 4). Such a law is inconsistent with the divine law or the natural law as it defies the law of morality. The Fugitive Slave Law discriminated against black people by treating them as property of their owners, which is morally wrong. Therefore, the natural law theorists’ perspective supports the act of the jurors in this case. The legal positivism perspective avoids the view held by natural law theorists regarding the connection that exists between law and morality. Hart, one of the major proponents of this perspective, thinks that there is no necessary connection between law and morality or ethics. In Hart’s view, a rule becomes a law when it is established by the society and is recognized in an official, legal manner by the state. As such, the validity of a law is dependent on specific social facts that act as its pillars and not moral standards. However, the positivists suggest that judges are not bound to rely primarily on the established rules; they should apply them only where relevant. The law though valid has to be interpreted in the context of moral concepts. They should always take into account legal facts, but may not ...
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