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Supreme Court of Indiana
Division of State Court Administration
30 S. Meridian Street, Ste 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dr. Elizabeth R. Osborn
Coordinator for
Court History and
Public Education Programs

Pho: 317.233.8682

Sarah Kidwell
Outreach Coordinator

Pho: 317.234.3055


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Courts in the Classroom > Legal History Lecture Series > Slavery and the Indiana Supreme Court: For and Against? Slavery and the Indiana Supreme Court: For and Against?

About the Event

This is a Free CLE Event sponsored by the Indiana Supreme Court, with funding from the Cornelius O'Brien Lecture Series and the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education.

This program features Professor Paul Finkelman - a nationally recognized speaker on topics related to slavery and the law. Professor Finkelman will discuss the complexity of the fight for and against slavery in Indiana and the United States in the 19th century.

The Indiana Supreme Court held a free CLE event regarding "Slavery and The Indiana Supreme Court: For and Against?" on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 3:00pm.

Dr. Finkelman will present a second talk Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 7:00 pm in the main meeting room of the Indiana State Library Building at 140 North Senate Avenue, Indianapolis as a part of the Spirit & Place Festival: A Civic Collaboration of the Arts, Religion, & Humanities. This session is free and open to the public, but CLE credit is not available.

Archived Video


Following the enactment of a stronger federal fugitive slave law in 1850, some northern legislators and courts looked for ways to protect the rights of blacks in their communities. This task was especially difficult because in 1842 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Pennsylvania law about the recapture and return of fugitive slaves (Prigg v. Pennsylvania). The Court held that the federal government possessed exclusive jurisdiction in dealing with runaway slaves - jurisdiction that the states could not invade.

Despite much ambivalent public sentiment regarding the rights of blacks, the Indiana Supreme Court continued to work to uphold the state's constitutional prohibition of slavery and indentured servitude.  Indiana's justices even used Prigg to invalidate an act of the Indiana legislature prohibiting any sort of aid to fugitive slaves in Donnell v. State (1852).  Donnell was a Decatur County Hoosier who had been convicted of "inducing the escape" of a Kentucky slave.

SpeakePaul Finkelmanr

Professor Paul Finkelman is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School.  He received a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago and a B. A. from Syracuse University. Later, he was selected as a fellow in Law and Humanities at Harvard Law School.

Supporting Materials

  • Donnell v. State, 3 Ind. 481 (1852)
  • Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842)
  • Ind. Rev. Stat. ch. 53, sec.115 (1843)
  • Norris v. Newton, 18 F. Cas. 322 (C.C.D. Ind. 1850) (No. 10,307)