Arkansas Supreme Court Opinions

The Arkansas Judiciary website offers Arkansas Supreme Court Published Opinions. This collection includes unofficial copies of published opinions starting from the Spring Term of 1837. I am fascinated by court opinions, not so much from a legal perspective but a historical perspective.

In Daniel v. Guy, 19 Ark. 121 (1857), the plaintiffs sued the defendant for trespass for false imprisonment. At issue was whether the plaintiffs were free or the slaves of defendant William Daniel.

For context, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided Daniel v. Guy just four years before Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter and sparked the American Civil War. So, this opinion pre-dates the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

The court proceeds to discuss the various legal presumptions in effect including the presumption of freedom for persons that appear to belong to the white race. Other important signals include whether the persons was previously held as a slave. In terms of expert witnesses, the court provided this summary:

Dr. Newton—Had read Physiology. There are five races—the negro is the lowest in intellect. Some physiologists are of the opinion that in the head of the mulatto, there is some negro hair, and some white hair, and that the negro hair never runs out. It would not run out before it passed the second generation. It may in the third generation have waves. The color, hair, feet, nose, and form of the skull and bones furnish means of distinguishing negro blood or descent. The hair never becomes straight until after the third descent from the negro, from neither the father or mother’s side. The flat nose also remains observable for several descents.

In 2171, I wonder what decisions by our present-day state and federal courts will appear as antiquated as this one.

Daniel v. Guy, 19 Ark. 121 (1857).

1 comment… add one
  • Diana

    Your article stated that you wonder what law will become outdated so much that it will seem as ridiculous as the one about the case where the expert witness testified as to the intelligence and other characteristics of the negro. There are a number of recently decided cases that may already and will soon in the future be seen as ridiculous in their substance. Those will be those laws making it a crime for same sex parties to the act to engage in sex when they are consenting adults and those acts take place in private, those laws making it legal for only opposite sex couples to marry, and those laws making it a crime for opposite or same sex parties to the act to engage in private and consensual, independently arranged and engaged in acts of sex in which there is an exchange of a gift or other monetary consideration when the parties share affection for one another or one party has affection for the other party.

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