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Iowa Supreme Court Ruling on Montgomery v. Ralph, 1839

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Judgment from Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Mason in Montgomery v. Ralph.
Courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa, Mason, Charles, 1839


This document is the written judgment from Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Mason, who in 1839 ruled that a former slave named Ralph would be "... free by operation of law; it is therefore ordered and adjudged; that he be discharged from further duress and restraint, and that he go hence without day." The background of the case was that Ralph was a slave of Jorden Montgomery's in Missouri, and in 1834, they agreed that Ralph would go to Dubuque, Iowa, to work in the lead mines. They also agreed Ralph would pay Montgomery $450.00 for his freedom but Ralph did not pay Montgomery, so the Missouri slave owner came to Iowa to apprehend Ralph. The ensuing supreme court case found that Ralph was a free man and Montgomery could not "illegally restrain a human being of his liberty."


Transcript of Iowa Supreme Court Ruling on Montgomery v. Ralph

Source-Dependent Questions

  • Considering the time period, why do you think it is significant that the Iowa Supreme Court and Chief Justice Charles Mason stated, "Ralph, a man of color?"
  • Why do you think Chief Justice Mason ordered that this ruling be shared out to several counties in the territory of Iowa?
  • Compare this ruling to the Dred Scott ruling. How does the ruling of Ralph show Iowa's progression toward civil rights compared to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dred Scott?