Opinion of Judge John Fox

Publication Year: 1838

Fox, John. Opinion of the Hon. John Fox, President Judge of the Judicial District Composed of the Counties of Bucks and Montgomery: Against the Exercise of Negro Suffrage in Pennsylvania: Also, the Vote of the Members of the Pennsylvania Convention... (Harrisburg: Printed by Packer, Barrett & Parke, 1838).
PHS call number: PAM JK 1929 .P4 69 1838

Source note

Judge John Fox (1787-1849) of Bucks County heard a case of alleged voter fraud at the end of 1837, just as delegates at the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention were trying to decide whether to allow African Americans to vote in their state. The case was brought by Bucks County Democrats who believed that African Americans had illegally cast the deciding votes that allowed local Whig candidates for county commissioner and auditor to defeat their Democrat opponents. This case is historically important because Fox’s opinion was cited by delegates at the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention where the question of black suffrage was being debated.

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Reading questions
  1. When was this opinion submitted (page 3)? Was this before or after the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention decided the question of black suffrage?
  2. Who is the author of this opinion, and who was the intended audience? 
  3. According to Judge Fox, what is the main question that came out of this local election (page 5)?
  4. According to Judge Fox’s interpretation of the original charter for the Pennsylvania colony, who counts as a Pennsylvania citizen (page 5)? 
  5. Why does the author of this source describe in some detail the sections of this 1725 law (pages 6-7)? What purpose does this serve in his argument?
  6. The 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania stated that no slave born after 1780 would be a slave for life. How does Fox leverage this law against the right of African Americans to vote in Pennsylvania (page 8)? 
  7. On page 10, Fox points out that the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 closely resembles the US Constitution. Why does it matter that the majority of representatives who drafted the US Constitution were from slaveholding states? 
  8. On page 11, Fox compares our democratic republic with the Roman republic. Why does he make this comparison, and in what ways does he claim the two democracies are similar? 
  9. On page 13, Fox discusses political rights versus civil rights for African Americans. What is his position on these two types of rights? 
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Source type
Judicial opinion
History Topics
African American History
Black Voting Rights
Civil Rights
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)