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An Infamous Case of Extradition

Published in 1855, at the height of the Irish famine-era migration and the heyday of the Know Nothing party, this newspaper article discusses a controversial case of deportation under an old Massachusetts law. Hundreds of poor and ill immigrants were deported under this law, which became a template for later federal deportation laws.

Yesterday morning there sailed from this port a splendid packet ship, bearing the noble name of Daniel Webster, which fitly belongs to so fine a vessel…. Among the crowd of human beings on board that proud vessel was one poor woman, with an infant daughter. Her passage and that of her child were paid by the rich and powerful Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She left our free and happy shores, unwilling and reluctant. She went away against her own free will, constrained by force of the civil authorities of the State. Her cries, as she begged not to be thus cruelly banished, were, we are told, most piteous, and such as to cause the accidental witnesses of the scene to burn with indignation.

The offence of this unfortunate woman for which she was thus violently and ignominiously expelled from Massachusetts, was the fact that she was born in Ireland, and is called a pauper. Her infant daughter who unconsciously shares her mother’s sad fate is a native of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; but she too partakes of that hard lot of poverty which it has been reserved for Massachusetts to make a crime ; and a crime which Massachusetts punishes as no other crime is punished in America, by banishment—banishment from one’s native land.

The name of this victim to know-nothing intolerance was Mary Williams; her infant, Bridget, is but a few weeks old. About thirty-five paupers, perhaps more, were sent away at the same time, in the same vessel, at the expense of the State. These facts we learn from eye-witnesses of the scene, and from other certain and authentic sources of information.

Our readers are aware that there exists upon our statute book a law which authorizes any justice of the peace upon complaint, by a warrant directed to and to be executed by any constable, or any other person therein designated, to cause any pauper to be removed out of the State to anyplace beyond the sea where he belongs, if the justice thinks proper…

The state of the law was thus called to the attention of the Legislature ten weeks ago. No attention whatever has been bestowed by the legislature upon these remarks. Meanwhile the banishments continue. The fugitive slave law of the United States seems so abominable an enactment to our legislature that they will not even call it a law in their official records. Yet our own Massachusetts pauper rendition law, vastly more barbarous, remains on our statute book; and the legislature will not interpose to amend or repeal it. Our legislators see the motes in the eyes of members of Congress, but know nothing of the beams in their own…. The rendition of Mary Williams and her infant Bridget, under our own law, by our own authorities, scarcely caused a remark…. The quiet of the city was not broken ; only a few heart-rending cries disturbed the silence of Long Wharf on Monday evening—the deed was done, the woman was embarked, and yesterday morning the vessel sailed with her living and unwilling freight.

From: Boston Daily Advertiser, May 16, 1855.

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