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[The Case of the Fugitive Slave Anderson]

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1070, p. 52 .

January 19, 1861

Saturday, January 19, 1861.

The case of the fugitive slave Anderson, whom a decision of the Courts in Canada has decreed to be delivered up to the Government of the United States under the Extradition Treaty with this country, had already excited considerable public attention; but the result of a recent application on his behalf to the Court of Queen's Bench at Westminster has given the matter a new and still more important interest. We believe that the parties who have applied for and obtained a writ of habeas corpus in this matter are acting on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society; and, certainly, a very remarkable and, it may prove, a very large question has been raised by that proceeding. Apart from international considerations, and all that relates to the subject of the Extradition Treaty, it is now to be seen what effect the direct action of the supreme Courts in this country on colonial jurisdiction will produce. Of the existing and abstract power of the Courts in England to issue a writ of the peculiar nature of a habeas corpus there is, we believe, no doubt; but, when the constitution of such a colony as Canada and its connection with the mother country are seriously considered, a difficulty arises, and a curious anomaly becomes apparent. To all practical intents and purposes the legislative and judicial functions of our North American provinces are independent and self-existent; and there has been a time when the immediate and positive interference of any authority at home with the discharge of the duties of the colonial Courts might have proved a dangerous experiment. As things are, there has probably never been a moment when any such question would have been likely to be treated with more temper and forbearance in Canada than just now; but, nevertheless, we cannot but think that the matter will not pass wholly without comment or protest, if nothing more. The policy which has guided our colonial rule for some years past can hardly be said to have been gratuitous on the part of the home Government, and the independent attitude which Canada now holds has been gained rather than granted. While agreeing that every possible sympathy ought to be felt for the unhappy object of this difficulty, and far from admitting that the construction put on the Extradition Treaty in this particular case of the Canadian Courts of Law is unassailable, we cannot disguise from ourselves that a very weighty and urgent responsibility is involved in the issue which has been raised as between the home and colonial judicatures. Separate from and beside all legal niceties and technicalities, a very broad principle is likely to be brought into, we hope, friendly and temperate dispute; and it is almost inevitable that a more accurate and deoided [sic] definition of the mutual relations between Great Britain and those which are known as her self-governing dependencies will have ere long to be laid down. This subject must, owing to the singular circumstances which have arisen, necessarily occupy the attention of Parliament in the coming Session, even if it does not lead to some remarkable legislative proceedings.

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