Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia - Vol. 2

Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia - Vol. 2

Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia - Vol. 2

Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia - Vol. 2


This collection of essays looks at over 200 major court cases, at both state and federal levels, from the colonial period to the present. Organized thematically, the articles range from 1,000 to 5,000 words and include recent topics such as the Microsoft antitrust case, the O.J. Simpson trials, and the Clinton impeachment. This new edition includes 42 new essays as well as updates throughout, with end-of-essay bibliographies and indexes by case and subject/name.


Walker v. Jennison (1781), Jennison v. Caldwell (1781), and Commonwealth v. Jennison (1783) [Massachusetts state courts]

The case in brief


1781, 1783




Massachusetts state courts

Principal Participants

Quock Walker

Nathaniel Jennison

Seth and John Caldwell

Levi Lincoln and other counsel

Chief Judge William Cushing

Significance of the Case

Although this series of cases did not, in fact, end slavery in Massachusetts, they revealed that it would have little legal protection in the state.

As the Revolutionary generation in Massachusetts looked back on its accomplishments, the abolition of slavery seemed to be one of its most tangible achievements. the federal census of 1790 listed no slaves in Massachusetts because, claimed opponents of slavery, the Declaration of Rights in the state constitution of 1780 stated that "all men are born free and equal." According to a belief widespread in Massachusetts at the turn of the nineteenth century, the state's highest court had cited that provision in declaring slavery unconstitutional in the 1780s when a black man, Quock Walker, successfully challenged his alleged owner's property rights in him. in truth, the Walker litigation (known collectively as the Quock Walker Cases) did not establish any constitutional principle and did not end slavery in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, the litigation did have a significant impact, and it stands as a landmark in the legal attack on slavery.

Quock Walker was nine months old in 1754, when he and his nineteen-year-old mother,

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