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Theodore Sedgwick

United States Bill of Rights 1789 (2021 Edition)

(9 May 1746 – 24 January 1813) Pioneer of antislavery jurisprudence, lawyer delegate to the Continental Congress, U.S. Representative, and Senator.

As a lawyer, he is recalled chiefly for his successful defence in 1783 of Elizabeth Freeman against the slave master from whom she had fled when he tried to reclaim her. Sedgwick based his case on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which declared all men to be “born free and equal.” He not only won the freedom of the woman who would become nurse to his children and die in his house, but, with others arguing similar cases by 1800, effectively eradicated slavery in Massachusetts by denying constitutional protection to the re-enslavement of runaways.

While in Congress, he was the major force behind the passage of the first fugitive slave law, which he justified as a legitimate protection of property; he also defended the rights of Quakers to petition for the abolition of slavery and was a member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society from 1802 until his death.

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Theodore Sedgwick
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