John Anderson The Man whose Legal Case Is Responsible For The British Habeas Corpus Act of 1862
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Public Law Children Act Cases – Habeas Corpus Lat. “you have the body” Prisoners often seek release by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of hab…
The Habeas Corpus Act 1816
The Habeas Corpus Act 1816 (c.100 56 Geo 3) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that modified the law on Habeas Corpus to remove the rule against “controverting the return” in non-criminal cases.
Historically, the rules around factual inquiries in decisions around petitions for habeas corpus had been based on the Opinion on the Writ of Habeas Corpus, a House of Lords disquisition by Wilmot CJ in 1758, which effectively nullified a bill for passage of An Act for giving a more speedy Remedy to the Subject upon the Writ of Habeas Corpus. broom03.revolvy.com
The Act is often wrongly described as the origin of the writ of habeas corpus. But the writ of habeas corpus had existed in various forms in England for at least five centuries before and is thought to have originated in the 12th Century Assize of Clarendon (wikipedia).
John Anderson was known as Jack Burton for much of his life, as he worked as a slave for Moses Burton in Fayette, Missouri. In 1850, Jack married a slave named Marie Tomlin who lived near the Burton plantation. Jack visited Marie often but, in 1853, Jack was sold to an owner in Glasgow, Missouri—a distance considerably farther from Fayette.
One night, he secretly made the illegal journey to visit his wife and three children. He was soon discovered by a farmer named Seneca T.P. Diggs, who threatened to reveal his crime. Panicked, Jack killed Diggs and ran for his life. He ended up in Canada, changed his name to John Anderson, and began working as a laborer in the town of Hamilton. In 1854, the United States government’s request of Anderson’s extradition was denied by the governor general of British North America. However, six years later Anderson was thrown in jail by a small-town magistrate and charged with murder.
At this point, a Hamilton lawyer—named Samuel B. Freeman (I never made it up!)—got involved. Freeman successfully pleaded Anderson’s case and he was released, but not for long. Less than six months later, Anderson was pursued by a Detroit detective named James A. Gunning who saw that he was imprisoned again. The court ruled that Anderson had indeed committed murder and could be extradited, though there was a small window of time before that could occur. Within that window, angry abolitionists rallied for Anderson’s defense and even wrote to the Anti-Slavery Society in London. blackthen.com
John Anderson’s motive for escape arose following his sale to another farmer. He realized he would never see his family again in such a situation, and this was unbearable. He hoped to become a legitimate free man and work so he could earn enough money to purchase his family out of bondage. Escape to Canada became his only option after he allegedly killed Missouri farmer Seneca Digges “by accident” when an attempt on his capture was made by Digges.
ANDERSON, JOHN (originally named Jack Burton), fugitive slave; b. c. 1831; fl. 1862.
On 15 December the court ruled by two to one that Anderson had committed murder by Missouri law, and that he could be extradited under terms of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Anderson was, however, momentarily protected by a statement by the court that it would offer no opposition to an appeal to the Court of Error and Appeal.
Canadian and British opinion was almost universally hostile toward the decision of 15 December. Thomas Henning, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, appealed to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in London and it applied to the Court of Queen’s Bench at Westminster in January 1861 for a writ of habeas corpus. The court granted this after accepting the applicant’s argument that the court’s writ could, on the basis of precedents, be made to extend to Canada. In Canada news of the writ was denounced by most elements of public opinion as interference in the constitutional powers of Canadian courts. Before the British writ could be served in Canada, however, Anderson’s attorneys appealed directly to the Court of Common Pleas in Toronto; in his decision on 16 Feb. 1861 Chief Justice William Henry Draper discharged Anderson principally on the grounds that the warrant from the Brantford magistrate’s court did not actually accuse Anderson of murder. The case led directly to the British Habeas Corpus Act of 1862, which stated that a writ could not be sent to any dominion or possession where a concurrent legal jurisdiction existed. A Canadian act in 1861 took away from magistrates’ courts jurisdiction in extradition cases.
Anderson went to England in June 1861 at the invitation of a British anti-slavery organization. Between July and September 1861, he spoke to at least 25 anti-slavery meetings in London and southeastern England. After a short period of private instruction Anderson enrolled in December 1861 in the British Training Institution at Corby, Northamptonshire . He remained there for one year; on 24 Dec. 1862 he sailed for Liberia and nothing more is known about him.
“Public law is not at base about rights, even though abuses of power may and often do invade private rights; it is about wrongs – that is to say, misuses of public power.”