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Rendition Hearing Of Anthony Burns: 1854

Tracked Down In Boston

Burns soon wrote his brother a letter, which he had mailed from Canada to conceal his location. But the letter was delivered to Suttle instead. Burns had been indiscreet enough to suggest that he was in Boston, and Suttle and Brent immediately set out to reclaim him. On May 24 they had him arrested on the spurious charge of robbing a jewelry store. Only when Burns was taken to the federal courthouse rather than the city jail did he realize that he had actually been seized as a fugitive slave.

At the jail Suttle asked Burns why he had run away. Burns replied that he had fallen asleep aboard the ship on which he was working. "Before I woke up, she set sail and carried me off," he claimed. Suttle asked Burns if he had not always treated him well. Burns made no reply, and Suttle continued. "Haven't I always given you money when you needed?" Burns countered "You have always given me 12 1/2 cents a year." This proved that Suttle and Burns knew each other, but not that Suttle owned Burns. For the rest of the night the marshal held Burns in the courthouse, while raucous guards tried to prod Burns into admitting that Suttle owned him.

The next morning U.S. Commissioner Edward Greeley Loring began a rendition hearing. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act required special federal commissioners to hold summary hearings on the status of seized negroes, grant certificates of removal, and order federal marshals to hunt down alleged fugitives. The accused had no right to trial and the standard of proof needed to return a Negro to slavery was very low. Fugitives could not testify on their own behalves, and they had no right to counsel or public trial. The commissioner's job was to decide whether the slave described in the affidavit was the person standing before him. The commissioner's decision was final; the fugitive could not even seek a writ of habeas corpus. The restrictive nature of these hearings had enraged abolitionists since 1850.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Rendition Hearing Of Anthony Burns: 1854 - Tracked Down In Boston, Dana For The Defense, Abolitionists Mobilize, Judge's Rulings Favor Master