Conversation on the Lemmon Slave Case

HYDE PARK – The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project will present a conversation and book signing with Albert M. Rosenblatt, author of THE EIGHT: THE LEMMON SLAVE CASE AND THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. The event will be held in the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home and streamed live to the official FDR Library YouTube and Facebook accounts. Registered attendees can visit the Library’s new exhibition, BLACK AMERICANS, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND THE ROOSEVELTS, free of charge before the program, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. This is a free public event, but registration is required to attend in-person. Visit to register.

THE EIGHT tells the story of Lemmon v. New York – or, as it’s more popularly known, the Lemmon Slave Case. All but forgotten today, it was one of the most momentous civil rights cases in American history. There had been cases in which the enslaved had won their freedom after having resided in free states, but the Lemmon case was unique, posing the question of whether an enslaved person can win freedom by merely setting foot on New York soil — when brought there in the keep of an “owner.” The case concerned the fates of eight enslaved people from Virginia, brought through New York in 1852 by their owners, Juliet and Jonathan Lemmon. The Eight were in court seeking, legally, to become people – to change their status under law from objects into human beings. They encountered Louis Napoleon, the son of a slave, an abolitionist activist, and a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, who took enormous risks to help others. He was part of an anti-slavery movement in which African-Americans played an integral role in the fight for freedom.

The case was part of the broader judicial landscape at the time: If a law was morally repugnant but enshrined in the Constitution, what was the duty of the judge? Should there be, as some people advocated, a “higher law” that transcends the written law? These questions were at the heart of the Lemmon case. They were difficult and important ones in the 1850s – and, more than a century and a half later, we must still grapple with them today.

Albert M. Rosenblatt teaches at the New York University School of Law and is a retired Judge of New York State Court of Appeals. His previous books include OPENING STATEMENTS: LAW, JURISPRUDENCE, AND THE LEGACY OF DUTCH NEW YORK (coedited with Julia C. Rosenblatt) and JUDITH S. KAYE IN HER OWN WORDS: REFLECTIONS ON LIFE AND THE LAW, WITH SELECTED JUDICIAL OPINIONS AND ARTICLES (coedited with Judith S. Kaye and Henry M. Greenberg), both published by SUNY Press.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Designed by Franklin Roosevelt and dedicated on June 30, 1941, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is the nation’s first presidential library and the only one used by a sitting president. Administered by the National Archives and Records Administration since 1941, the Library preserves and makes accessible to the American people the records of FDR’s presidency. The Roosevelt Library’s mission is to foster a deeper understanding of the lives and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their continuing impact on contemporary life. This work is carried out through the Library’s archives and research room, museum collections and exhibitions, innovative educational programs, and engaging public programming. For more information about the Library or its programs call (800) 337-8474 or visit

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