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[Cite as Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah, 4 Ga. 68 (1848). Note: This decision regards "free persons of color" and to what extent they were possessed of rights in 1848. The court mentions the right to arms at page 72 which is in a seperate file.]
[Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah continued
Return to pages 68-71.
Return to page 72.
Currently at pages 73-75.]
[paragraph continued from previous page] By the 7th section of the Act of 24th Dec. 1825, authorizing the corporation of the city of Savannah to assess taxes, &c. it is provided that such taxes shall be collected by the proper officers, in such manner as the taxes of the State are collected and enforced.
The 12th section of the Act provides that where there is neither lands, goods or chattels to be found, out of which to collect the penalties imposed by warrant of distress and sale, then it shall be lawful for a majority of the Mayor and Aldermen, by execution duly issued, to imprison the offender in the common jail of the county of Chatham, not to exceed ten days and nights.--The 17th section of the Act gives to the Mayor and Aldermen full power to pass all ordinances, rules and regulations necessary for the government of slaves and free persons of color within the city of Savannah and hamlet thereof. The 20th section of the Act prohibits the corporation of the city of Savannah, from passing any ordinance, rule or regulation, contravening the laws of this State, or the Constitution thereof. Dawson's Compilation, 464-5.
[2.] That the corporate authorities of the city of Savannah have ample power conferred on them by the Legislature, by the 17th section of the Act of 1825, to make all such rules and regulations as may be deemed proper for the well-being and safety of the inhabitants of the city, in regard to the conduct and residence of free persons of color within the corporate limits of the city, we do not doubt; but the question presented by the record, and bill of exceptions now before us, is, whether the petitioners are imprisoned for the violation of any rule or ordinance made by the corporation under the 17th section of the Act for that object, or whether they are imprisoned for the non-payment of a tax, imposed by the corporate authorities of the city. The right of the city authorities to impose a tax upon free persons of color within the corporate limits of the city, is recognized. But if the ordinance which the petitioners are charged to have violated be a tax ordinance, and the offence for which they are imprisoned is the non-payment of the tax imposed by such ordinance, then, in our judgment, their imprisonment is illegal. While we admit the right of the corporation to impose and collect the tax specified in the ordinance; yet we deny the right of the corporation to enforce its collection by imprisonment.
It is quite apparent, we think, from the face of the Act of 1825, (p.74)that the taxes authorized to be assessed by the corporate authorities of the city of Savannah, should be collected in the same manner as the taxes of the State are collected, with the exception of the ten days and nights imprisonment authorized by the 12th section of the Act. The 12th section, however, in our judgment, was intended to apply to free white persons.
By the 9th section of the Act of 1815, it is declared, "In all cases where free persons of color shall fail or refuse to pay the taxes charged against them, and shall have no property on which to levy, the collector may levy on and hire out said free person of color for such price as will produce the amount due the State." Prince's Dig. 859. The Court below was of the opinion that the non-payment of the one hundred dollars, for which the petitioners were imprisoned, was not a tax, and therefore refused to discharge them.
The object of the ordinance enacted by the Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Savannah, appears upon its face to be to raise a fund for the support of a watch in the city, and to prescribe the mode of assessing and collecting taxes in the city of Savannah, and for other purposes connected therewith.
Indeed, the 5th section of the ordinance declares, each free person of color who may remove to the city to reside, shall pay to the treasurer the sum of one hundred dollars in addition to any poll or other tax, assessed by this ordinance upon free persons of color.
When we take into consideration the object of the ordinance, as well as the ordinance itself, our minds are irresistibly forced to the conclusion that the section which imposed the payment of one hundred dollars on free persons of color removing to the city to reside, from other parts of the State, is a tax, and nothing else but a tax, and being a tax, its collection cannot be enforced by the imprisonment of the petitioners. The mode for collecting the tax is pointed out by the act of 1815, which provides the petitioners shall be hired out for the payment of their taxes, and that portion of the ordinance which declares the petitioners shall be imprisoned for the non-paynment of the one hundred dollars tax imposed, is repugnant to the laws of the State and void.
It was insisted, however, on the argument, that admitting it was a tax, the petitioners might be detained in prison until arrangements could be made to hire them out, in accordance with the (p.75)provisions of the statute. The answer to that argument is, no such object appears on the face of the warrants of commitment which are returned as the cause of their caption and detention. Let the judgment of the court below be reversed, and the petitioners discharged.
[Return to pages 68-71.
Return to page 72.
Currently at pages 73-75.]