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New York Assembly Print of Proposed State Law to Combat the Dred Scott Decision
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Every slave … who shall come or be brought, or be involuntarily in this state shall be free.

[SLAVERY AND ABOLITION--NEW YORK STATE]. Print. New York Assembly. “An Act To secure Freedom to all persons within this State,” Samuel A. Foot, April 9, 1857, Printed with numbered lines for the use of the Assembly and not for public distribution. 1 p.

Inventory #24129       Price: $2,200


Neither descent, near or remote, from an African…nor color of skin shall disqualify any person for being, or prevent any person from becoming a citizen of this state; nor deprive such person of the rights and privileges of a citizen thereof....

Every person who shall hold, or attempt to hold in this state in slavery…under any pretence, or for any time however short, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and on conviction thereof shall be confined in the state prison at hard labor for a term not less than two nor more than ten years.

Historical Background

In 1799, the New York legislature passed “An Act for the gradual abolition of slavery” that indentured and would eventually free slave children born after July 4, 1799. In 1817, it passed a law freeing those slaves in 1827. But non-residents and part-time residents could still bring their slaves into the state temporarily.

On March 14, 1857, New York Assemblyman Samuel A. Foot introduced resolutions declaring that the U.S. Supreme Court, through its decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford “has in effect declared slavery to be national,” and calling for the creation of a joint committee of three senators and five assemblymen to “consider and report what measures (if any) the Legislature of this State ought to adopt to protect the constitutional rights of her citizens.” The resolution passed by a vote of 49-24, and the Senate concurred on April 2.

On April 9, Foot, from a majority of the select committee of the Senate and Assembly, introduced this bill and three resolutions. Simultaneously, Edward M. Madden introduced this bill in the Senate. Eight days later, the Assembly (with 81 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and 8 American Party members) passed the bill 72 to 38. In the Senate (with 17 Republicans, 9 American Party members [Know Nothings], and 4 Democrats), attempts to move the bill to the Committee of the Whole were evenly divided. Lacking the two-thirds majority required for this procedure, the bill died.

Very similar language appeared in an 1859 bill which also failed; New York passed no new Personal Liberty Law during the decade before the Civil War.

The New York Assembly had 128 members in 1857, so it is likely no more than 150 copies of this bill were printed for Assembly consideration. We can find no evidence that any other copies have survived.

Samuel A. Foot (1790-1878) was born in Watertown, Connecticut, attended Union College in Schenectady, New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1813. Jailed when unable to pay his deceased father’s debts, Foot practiced law while in jail for thirteen days. He served as district attorney of Albany County from 1819 until 1828, when he joined a law partnership in New York City. In 1851, the governor appointed Foot to fill a vacancy on the New York Court of Appeals, a position he held for only seven months. Republicans of Ontario County nominated Foot for the New York Assembly, where he served in 1856 and 1857. As a member of the Assembly, he earned the title “Watch Dog of the Treasury” and introduced these resolutions strongly condemning the Dred Scott decision.

More Historical Background

Samuel A. Foot wrote to Abraham Lincoln on December 15, 1862:

Mr. President.
Dear Sir

My three eldest sons responded to your call last year for volunteers to suppress the insurrection. The lives of the two eldest have been yielded in the contest. They were dear and dutiful sons, as is also the third one, who is still in service. This priceless contribution which I have been called to make to sustain our institutions and the integrity of our country, entitle me, I respectfully submit, to say to the President of my choice, that it is perfectly clear to my mind that the rebellion cannot be effectually suppressed, and we become a united people, unless slavery is destroyed; and that I hope and trust that on New-Year’s day I shall be allowed to read your proclamation designating the states and parts of states in rebellion, that in them slavery may be abolished in accordance with your proclamation, of the 22d of September last. If I can read that proclamation, I shall feel that the lives of my dear sons have not been sacrificed in vain.

Respectfully yours,
Samuel A. Foot

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