Litigation involving race in Wisconsin trailed the adjudication of this subject in the Northwest Territory. The black population in Wisconsin remained small, so whites rarely felt they had to come into direct contact with them. Unlike Ohio where the visible admixture test arose, the courts in Wisconsin rarely came into contact with that issue. And unlike Indiana, where slavery arose under the pretext of indentured servitude, Wisconsin escaped such a practice. In contrast to Ohio where antislavery lawyers made the runaway slave issue controversial, jurists in Wisconsin went farther than the lawyers and courts in any of the other states, even those that became the center of the antislavery movement.
The supreme court in Wisconsin was the only court to render unconstitutional any federal Fugitive Slave Law. The supreme court ruled that the federal statute of 1850"attempts to confer judicial power; [and] it is a denial of the fugitive to have those questions decided by a jury." This achievement was short lived, however. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling.
The following cases demonstrate that the runaway slave issue was the most controversial in Wisconsin. Barring a few exceptions, the rights of refugees from the South and the authority of a state court to void federal law, the courts in Wisconsin was obsessed with this crisis of the 1850s.