Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reconstruction Kentucky Judge Ignored 14th Amendment

The year following the Civil War the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by Congress. Its provisions were added to the Constitution two years later in the form of the Fourteenth Amendment. This vital change to the laws of our land included in its first section the provision that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of Citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Kentucky, a proslavery and loyal border state during the Civil War, resisted to the bitter end the demise of slavery. The state rejected to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery, but was still naturally subject to that law, however, that didn't mean they were ready to accept it. Similarly, Kentuckians rejected the Fourteenth Amendment and the later Fifteenth Amendment, which allowed African American men to vote.

Kentuckians' conservative hesitancy to embrace these amendments, which they viewed as being radical, came through in a newspaper article I recently came across. On October 18, 1870, the Lexington Daily Press printed a story under the headline - "Negro Testimony --- A Test Case."

Since the end of the Civil War Kentucky's African American's had pressed for the necessity to testify in court cases. They correctly believed that there was no way they could receive any sense of justice for the atrocities that were committed on them in the Reconstruction years if they could not provide testimony against their attackers.

This article read:
"The grand jury of the United States Circuit Court yesterday returned an indictment against Hop Price, Judge of the Louisville City Court, for refusing to receive the testimony of a negro against a white man, who had been arrested upon the charge of assault and battery on the negro. The laws of the Commonwealth conflict with the [Fourteenth] amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to negro testimony, and Judge Price, conceiving it his duty to support the Constitution of Kentucky in preference to all other laws rendered his decision in accordance therewith. The punishment for the offense is a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both, at the discretion of the court."

I found a short followup article in an issue a few days later that this case was to be tried on November 9, 1870, but when I tried to find out what happened I couldn't locate the court's decision in this particular newspaper.  

1 comment:

  1. What about the transcripts from the United States Circuit Court? Aren't they the ones who tried Judge Price?