The rights of property are united with the rights of person, and placed on the same ground by the Fifth Amendment, which provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law. An act of Congress that deprives a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property, merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States, and who has committed no offense against the laws, can hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.
Petitioner was a slave of African descent. He brought suit in the federal court against respondent, his owner, for assault. Certiorari was granted from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri finding that respondent was not liable to petitioner for assault. The Court held that petitioner was not a citizen of Missouri as asserted in his original complaint because he was not permitted to become a citizen, and no state had the power to grant him citizenship. The judgment finding that respondent was not liable to petitioner for assault was reversed and the case was remanded with an order to dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held that petitioner was not a citizen and could not bring the action in the court because petitioner was a slave of African descent.
Did the Circuit Court of the United States have jurisdiction to hear and determine the case between these parties?
The Court held that petitioner did not gain his freedom by being transferred into a territory of the United States declared free by Congress because Congress's power to make rules and regulations for territories only applied to those territories belonging to the United States when the constitution was drafted. Therefore, the law making the territory free was unconstitutional. Finally, the Court held that petitioner did not gain his freedom by being taken into the free state of Illinois because the property laws of one state could not grant petitioner's freedom. Therefore, the Court held that judgment against respondent was to be vacated and the case dismissed because the Court did not have jurisdiction over petitioner's complaint.