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Luther v. Borden

United States Supreme Court
48 U.S. (7 How.) 1 (1849)



Martin Luther (plaintiff) was a participant in an insurrection in Rhode Island that sought to overthrow the charter government that had existed since the founding of the United States. The group of insurgents drafted their own constitution, submitted the constitution to a popular vote in the state, and claimed that the voters had ratified the constitution. The charter government did not recognize the validity of the vote or the new government. As a result of the insurrection, the charter government declared martial law. Luther Borden and other members of the charter government’s military (defendants) broke into Luther’s house, seeking to arrest him. Luther sued the defendants for trespass in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island. Luther claimed that he acted as a representative of Rhode Island’s new legitimate government and that because the charter government had been replaced, Borden had no legal authority to break into his house or arrest him. The circuit court held in favor of Borden, finding that Rhode Island’s charter government was still in effect. Luther appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Taney, C.J.)

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