Rowan v. Runnels - 46 U.S. 134 (1847)
U.S. Supreme Court
Rowan v. Runnels, 46 U.S. 5 How. 134 134 (1847)
Rowan v. Runnels
46 U.S. (5 How.) 134
In the case of Groves v. Slaughter, 15 Pet. 449, this Court decided that the Constitution of Mississippi did not, of itself, and without any legislative enactment, prohibit the introduction of slaves as merchandise and for sale.
This constitution went into operation on 1 May, 1833, and on 13 May, 1837, a law was passed to provide for the case.
This Court adheres to the construction of the Constitution which was given in the case of Groves v. Slaughter, and enforces contracts made between the two days above mentioned, although the courts of the State of Mississippi have, since the decision in the case of Groves v. Slaughter, declared such contracts to be void.
These cases were brought up, by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi. Rowan and Harris were citizens of Virginia, and Runnels was a citizen of Mississippi.
Both cases depended upon the same principle, and differed only in this -- that in one Runnels executed to Rowan & Harris his own note, and in the other endorsed over to them a promissory note executed by George W. Adams. Both notes were due on 1 March, 1640, one being for $2,950.70 and the other for
$8,671.33. At maturity the notes were protested for nonpayment, and suits brought upon them.
At the trial, the defendant offered in evidence a transcript of the record of a suit pending in the Supreme Court of Chancery of the
State of Mississippi, wherein Rowan & Harris were complainants, and George W. Adams and others defendants, one object of which was to show that the consideration for the notes was a sale of slaves by Rowan & Harris to Runnels. Whereupon the defendant moved the court to instruct the jury that if they believed from the evidence that the original consideration of the note sued on was the sale by plaintiffs to defendant of slaves introduced into the State of Mississippi for sale and as merchandise by plaintiffs since 1 May, 1833, that then said note was void and they should find for the defendant. Which instruction the court gave to the jury as moved for by the defendant. To the giving of which instruction the plaintiffs excepted, and upon this exception the case came up to this Court.