American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Encyclopedia of Slavery and Abolition in the United States - I


Chapter: “Admission of Missouri: Attempt to Introduce Slavery into Illinois,” by Wilson, Henry, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

During this Missouri struggle a conspiracy was formed to make Illinois a slave State. Both of her Senators were natives of the South, and they had pertinaciously opposed the prohibition of slavery in Missouri, while her Representative was its earnest and eloquent advocate. A majority of its settler’s at that time unquestionably approved of the action of their Senators. Illinois had been largely settled by emigrants from the South, who carried with them their love of slavery and their unreasoning prejudices against free negroes. In 1807 the Territorial legislature of Indiana made it lawful for any owner or possessor of any negroes or mulattoes above fifteen years of age to bring them into that Territory, which then included the present State of Illinois. Within thirty days he was required to take such negro before the clerk of the county court and enter into an. agreement· with the latter by which he was to serve him a given number of years. If the negro refused to enter into such an agreement, he was to be taken back within sixty days to the place from which he came. This act provided, further, that any owner or possessor of negroes under fifteen years of age was authorized to hold the males till they were thirty-five, and the females until they were thirty-two years of age, "to service and labor." It also provided that the children born of these registered servants should be held to like service, the males till they were thirty years and the females till they were twenty-eight years of age. When Illinois became a Territory it reaffirmed these laws. By their inhuman provisions Southern masters could take their slaves into this Territory, and compel them to enter into contracts to serve them a number of years, exceeding their natural lives, or be sent back to perpetual servitude. Their children under fifteen years of age and those born after entering the Territory were also doomed to the same service for a period of years. This was practically involuntary servitude, and in direct violation of the ordinance of 1787. Such was the public sentiment, and so great were the difficulties in the way of asserting their rights, that many negroes were held in a bondage as severe as any that prevailed in the Southern States.

By the constitution of Illinois, adopted in 1818, suffrage was limited to free white persons; the introduction of slavery was forbidden, and it was provided that no contracts should be made for a longer period than one year. It provided, however, that all preceding contracts should be valid; but it required that the children of such registered servants should become free at the lawful age. On the admission of the State the legislature had hastened to enact a code of black laws, most of which were taken from the slave codes of Virginia and Kentucky, from which States most of the settlers had emigrated. Fines were imposed upon persons bringing negroes into the State; and negroes found without certificates of freedom were doomed to be sold into slavery for one year. Free negroes were compelled to give sureties, and when convicted of any petty offences, they were to be punished with stripes. These degrading laws were often cruelly enforced, and for more than forty years they continued to disgrace the statute-book of that rising State.

After the admission of Missouri, emigrants from Virginia and Kentucky, with their long trains of teams and negroes, passed through portions of the State on their way to Missouri. Many of them were men of wealth and education, and as they passed along with their droves of negroes, they did not fail to remind the settlers and land speculators that they had been excluded from purchasing their lands and settling among them by the prohibition of slavery. Of course these land-owners envied the good fortune of Missouri. Feeling that the prospects of Illinois had been blasted by freedom, they nursed the desire to make it a slave State. This purpose was carried into the election of 1822. The legislature was carried by the friends of slavery, though, on account of dividing their votes between two candidates, they failed to carry either of their candidates for governor, and Edward Coles was elected to the gubernatorial chair by the friends of freedom. Mr. Coles was a native of Virginia, a gentleman of culture and character, had emancipated his slaves, moved with them to Illinois in 1818, and settled them upon lands which he had given them. He had been private secretary of Mr. Madison, was the personal friend of Mr. Jefferson, and an uncompromising emancipationist. 

There were in Illinois a few French settlers holding slaves, to whom, by common consent, neither the constitution of the State nor the principle of the ordinance of 1787 had been applied. When the legislature met, Governor Coles recommended the emancipation of these slaves. This recommendation incensed the advocates of slavery, and they sought to amend the constitution. To call a convention for that purpose required a two-thirds vote of both branches of the legislature, ratified by a vote of the people. They had the requisite vote in the Senate, but lacked one vote in the House. They had two purposes, -to carry the convention, and to elect a proslavery candidate for the United States Senate.  There were two contestants for one of the counties, one of them would vote for their candidate for the Senate, but would not vote for the convention; the other would vote for the convention, but not for the candidate. They admitted the contesting member that was willing to vote for their candidate for the Senate, and after using his vote for that purpose expelled him from the House and admitted the other. By this audacious trick and reckless profligacy of principle the advocates of slavery, true to its instincts of fraud and violence carried their point, and the call for the convention wits submitted to the people Having accomplished this purpose, with low bred and indecent effrontery they formed a disorderly procession, under the lead of the lieutenant-governor; several judges and a majority of the legislature, of the rowdy elements of the capital, and “ with blowing of horns and beating of drums and tin pans," they marched to the residence of the governor and to those of the other members in sympathy with him, to insult, by their riotous demonstrations, those opposed to making Illinois a slave State, But Governor Coles and his friends were hot to be intimidated, They were father strengthened than shaken in their purpose to exclude from Illinois a system that inspired such displays of its ferocious and brutalizing influence upon every one enlisted in its advocacy and support. They appealed to the people not to ratify the action of the legislature. Papers were established; and Governor Coles, David Blackwell, Thomas Lippincott, George Churchill, Morris Birkbeck, Judge Lockwood, and other leading men made public addresses and prepared articles for the press and pamphlets for circulation against the suicidal policy of giving that great commonwealth to slavery. The Methodist and Baptist clergy, many of whom had been Southern men who had seen and experienced the evils of the system, labored zealously and effectively for the same good purpose. After an excited and bitter contest; of more than fifteen months, the proposed convention was voted down by a majority of more than two thousand. The victory was complete and final. The friends of liberty throughout the country, dejected by the results of the Missouri struggle, found some compensation in the thought that Illinois had been saved to freedom.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 161-164.



Chapter: “Activity of the Abolitionists. - Action of Northern Legislatures,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

While Eastern Abolitionists were thus actively engaged in their work, and meeting its peculiar exigencies, their brethren at the West were not idle. Nor were they without their share of vicissitudes, substantially like those in the New England and the Middle States, though affected by the composite character of the population, even then, of that section of the country. The fact, too, that the defenders and abettors of slavery there, as elsewhere, made demands against which many who were not Abolitionists revolted, like John Quincy Adams, in behalf of the right of petition, and Mr. Lovejoy for the freedom of the press, exerted its influence. Concerning Illinois, Dr. Edward Beecher says that in it "there was an original leaven of antislavery: principles in its earliest settlement, and  preceding the discussions at the East; and the influence of this, added to that of papers from the East, awakened an extensive interest in the subject over the whole State." But, while there might have been this "leaven of antislavery," the prevailing tone of thought and feeling, as the great body of its early settlers were from slave-holding States, was the reverse. Accordingly it was seen in the ejection of Mr. Lovejoy's press from St. Louis, that, when the lines were drawn, the vast preponderance of the popular sentiment and influence was on the side of the oppressor.

These facts, more clearly developed by the Alton riots and the murder of Lovejoy than by any previous demonstration, decided many minds, before hesitating, that the time had come for concerted action. Accordingly, when the convention of “the friends of the slave and of free discussion," called to meet at Upper Alton, Illinois, on the 26th of October; 1837, was broken up by the intrusion of  proslavery men, who took the organization of the meeting into their own hands, adopted proslavery resolutions, and then dissolved the meeting, the supporters of law and order, whatever their views upon slavery had hitherto been, saw, in the words of Dr. Beecher, that " some organized, systematic effort was absolutely necessary to save our own liberties from the ruthless hands of unprincipled men."

A new call was issued, and two days later the convention met and formed the "Illinois State Antislavery Society." Having perfected their organization, adopted a constitution, and chosen their officers, Elihu Wolcott being president and E. P. Lovejoy secretary arid chairman of the executive committee, they discussed and adopted a series of resolutions, at once comprehensive and thorough, and based upon the great principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Word of God. Among the resolutions was one declaring that " the cause of human rights, the liberty of speech and of the press, imperatively demand that the press of the ' Alton Observer' be reestablished at Alton, with its present editor"; and pledging its members with the aid of Alton friends and "by the help of Almighty God," to take measures for its re-establishment. A preamble, couched in language of singular solemnity and force, prefixed to the constitution, and also a declaration of sentiments, reported by Dr. Beecher, were adopted. Fifty-five signatures were appended to the constitution.

A committee, consisting of Wolcott, Beecher, and Carter, was appointed to issue an "address to the citizens of the State on the subject of slavery, freedom of speech, of the press," etc. That also was a paper of singular ability and eloquence, placing the cause on the high ground of Christian principle, and enunciating with great clearness and force the primal truths of human rights and the paramount claims of God's Holy Word. But the strong Southern element which entered so largely into the population of Illinois prevented any very general adoption of such sentiments, however scriptural and republican in spirit and purpose. There were, indeed, ever faithful men and women, churches and communities; but the great body joined in the general apostasy, consenting to, if not defending the giant wrong.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 361-363.



Chapter: “Imprisonment of Colored Seamen,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

Among the aggressive and oppressive measures of the slaveholding States were the arrests and imprisonments, the fines, whippings, and selling into slavery of free colored men, guilty of no offence but entering Southern ports in the prosecution of their lawful callings.

In 1820 South Carolina passed an act to restrain the emancipation of slaves, and to prevent free persons of color from entering the State. This act was followed by several others of like character and with more stringent provisions. These acts bore with great severity upon colored persons employed on board vessels entering her harbors. They were arrested, forcibly taken out of their vessels, and imprisoned. A case was taken into one of the State courts, and a discharge demanded, on the ground that such laws were unconstitutional; but, that court holding the law to be constitutional, an appeal was taken to the highest tribunal of the State. After argument, the court being divided in opinion, the case was suspended, and the prisoners were still held in custody.

The petitions of twenty-six masters of vessels were presented to .the Congress of the United States by Mr. Sergeant of Pennsylvania, in the winter of 1823, setting forth that these acts destroyed the liberty of freemen, interfered with the freedom of navigation and with the employment of seamen. They asked Congress to relieve them from the situation in which these acts placed them by exposing their free colored mariners to unlawful imprisonment, and their vessels to an enormous and unnecessary expense and detention. Congress, however, gave no relief, and South Carolina went on increasing the severity of her statutes· and the rigor of their enforcement.

England made formal complaint against these acts, and remonstrated not with that State, but with the national government. . The subject was referred to William Wirt, then Attorney General of the United States; and that eminent jurist, though a native of Virginia and a slaveholder himself, in 1821, pronounced the acts she complained of an infraction of "the Constitution; treaties, and laws of the United States, and incompatible with the rights of all nations in amity with the United States." South Carolina bowed to that decision so far as it applied to foreign nations, but mercilessly enforced those laws against the citizens of her sister States, who sometimes found in her ports that temporary protection on the decks and tinder the flags of other governments which their own failed to secure: Though one of her most eminent sons, William Johnson, then a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, held the opinion that these laws "trampled cm. the Constitution," " implied a direct attack upon the sovereignty of the United States," tended "to a dissolution of the Union," and were'" unconstitutional and void," yet she persistently adhered to her illegal, unfriendly, and cruel policy.

Louisiana and some other Southern States followed her pernicious example. For years the merchants, shipmasters, and seamen of Northern States were thus harassed and burdened. These oppressions continuing, petitions were presented, in 1836, to the legislature of Massachusetts, by antislavery men, asking the interposition of the State. Samuel J. May and Samuel E Sewall appeared before the committee and presented the carefully collected facts bearing upon the subject. No action, however, was taken till 1839, when a series of, resolutions was passed, protesting against laws under which “citizens of this Commonwealth, visiting those States for purposes of business or driven thither by misfortune, often have been and continue to be, though guiltless of crime, cast into prison, subjected to onerous fines, and in many instances sold into slavery." Assuming that it was the paramount duty of Massachusetts to protect her, citizens, the governor was authorized to employ a suitable person, whenever any colored citizen of the State was imprisoned in another State on account of complexion or race, to lay the matter before the proper authorities and secure the release of the individual. These resolves, so moderate in language and so reasonable in their demands, were unheeded, and treated with contemptuous neglect.

After patiently waiting three years, the legislature· authorized the governor to take suitable measures at the expense of the Common wealth to procure  the discharge, of persons held under such laws, and to test their legality before the Supreme Court; but this action secured no practical result. These laws were felt to be more and more oppressive and burdensome, and petitions were presented in 1843, to the legislature, asking the appointment of counsel in the ports of Charleston and New Orleans to act in behalf of their oppressed citizens. The legislature promptly passed resolves authorizing the governor to employ an agent for the ports of Charleston and New. Orleans, for a term not exceeding one year, for collecting and transmitting information respecting the number of persons imprisoned without the allegation of a crime, and to prosecute one or more suits, so as to test the legality of these imprisonments. Governor Morton appointed agents for that purpose; but they took no notice of their appointment, or declined to act.

Defeated in all its efforts to secure the protection of its citizens, the legislature, in 1844, authorized the governor to appoint an agent to reside at Charleston, and another to reside in New Orleans, to carry into effect the resolutions of the preceding legislature. Under this authority Governor Briggs appointed for Charleston Samuel Hoar of Concord. Mr. Hoar was a gentleman of ripe age; of great personal worth and influence, eminent in his profession, having served with much acceptance in both the. State and national legislatures. He was by temperament, education, and social position cautious and conservative. He had never been an Abolitionist, but was a supporter and advocate of the colonization scheme.

Accepting this appointment, Mr. Hoar set out on his mission of justice, humanity, and constitutional law. With his daughter, a lady of rare intelligence and excellence of character, he arrived at Charleston on the 28th of November, 1844. On the same day he addressed a communication to the governor of South Carolina, informing him that he had been appointed by the governor of Massachusetts an agent to collect and transmit accurate information respecting the imprisonment of citizens of that Commonwealth, and bring one or more suits in their behalf. The next day Mr. Hoar sought an introduction .to the mayor of Charleston, for the purpose of obtaining access to “the records of orders on sentences to imprisonment of our colored seamen or other citizens." But that official was at Columbia, attending a session of the legislature.

James H. Hammond was then governor of South Carolina. His views upon slaveholding were of the most extravagant character. He believed it to be the normal condition of society. In Congress he had shown himself to be its most zealous advocate, and a violent exponent of the most extreme opinions of his State. Reckless alike of the rights of whites and of blacks, he did not hesitate to make this avowal on the floor of the House: " I warn the Abolitionists, ignorant, infatuated barbarians as they are, that, if chance shall throw any of them into our hands, they may expect a felon's death." On receiving Mr. Hoar's letter, the governor hastened to communicate it to the legislature.  Incensed at what they chose to regard " as part of a deliberate and concerted scheme to subvert the domestic institutions of the Southern States," the legislature promptly adopted a series of resolutions declaring the right of South Carolina to exclude from her territory .persons whose presence might be dangerous; denying that free, negroes were " citizens of the United States "in the meaning of the, Constitution; and requesting the governor to " expel the emissary sent by Massachusetts to South Carolina." 

Nor did the legislature pause with these declarations: They passed an act to punish by fines, imprisonment, and banishment any person coming within the limits of the State with the intent to disturb or hinder the operation of laws relating to slaves and free persons of color. It also enacted that any resident citizen of the State who should accept any commission for it like purpose should receive a still severer punishment.

As his mission became known, a like feeling of resentment and hostility ran through the State. Charleston was in a ferment of rage. The sheriff called on Mt. Hoar, and said to him: “It is considered a great insult on South Carolina by Massachusetts to send an agent here on such business. The city is highly incensed. You are in great danger, and you had better leave the city as soon as possible". Be replied with firmness that he had been sent by the governor of Massachusetts on lawful business, and he could not consent to leave until he had attempted, at least, to carry out his instructions. The sheriff then read a portion of a letter he had received from the attorney-general, urging the importance of preserving order and deprecating a resort to lynching, which would be "a disgrace to the city." Repeating several times that the excitement was intense, that the people regarded the object of his visit an insult, he advised him to leave at once, as the one means of safety left. But Mr. Hoar was firm in his unwillingness to leave under such circumstances. Other citizens called, with similar representations and counsel.

It was suggested to him by the sheriff, that a case be made up and taken before the Supreme Court; and a decision secured, by this means. To this proposition he readily assented; but, on further reflection and consideration, the sheriff withdrew the offer.  Dr. Whitridge, to whom, Mr. Hoar had a letter of introduction, also called upon him; and, though expressing his “unutterable mortification in communicating the state of things existing in Charleston," he felt obliged to apprise him of his danger, and of the necessity of immediate escape. He told him that he had just come from the common council; that the people were assembling in groups, and that the best course to be pursued was to take a carriage to his plantation, some twenty miles distant, where they could arrange further movements. But he still firmly declined the proffered aid and advice.

Three gentlemen -- one of them a bank president and the others two attorneys of that city, one of whom was Mr. Magrath, a lawyer of eminence, afterward a judge of the United States District Court, and one of the leaders of the Rebellion-called on Mr. Hoar, avowedly for the purpose of inducing him to leave the city. To their urgent request that he should leave, Mr. Hoar replied by stating the lawful nature of his business, and the pressing necessity he was under to perform it. After further conversation, they informed him that they would call again and  escort him to the boat· He replied that fighting on his part would be very foolish, that he was too old to run, and they would find him there to be disposed of as they should think proper. When they were about leaving the room, he reminded them that he had a daughter with him; to which Mr. Rose, the bank president, replied: "It is that which creates our embarrassment." While these gentlemen used no violent language, their words and tones indicated that they were determined in their purpose. 

He was further embarrassed by the action of the keeper of the hotel. Without intimating to him a desire that he should leave his house, he presented a request to the city government that they would remove him, to save his house from the impending danger. Informed that a story was circulating through the city that he had consented to leave, Mr. Hoar stated to Mr. Rose and his friends that he had given no such consent; and that, if he left the city, it would be because he “must," not because he "would." It was admitted that they had no power to order him away, and that all they could do was to warn him of what was to follow if he should not go. They concurred in assuring him that he had done all he could, and that it was impossible for him to remain longer in the city. It seemed then," said Mr. Hoar, in his report to the governor of Massachusetts, "that there was but one question for me to settle; which was, whether I should walk to a carriage or be dragged to it.  Unless I disregarded the statements of friends as well as of foes, and also the preparations which I then saw about me, this, I must conclude, was the only alternative. I could perceive no use to any State, cause, or person in choosing the latter; and I then, and for the first time, said, ' I will go.' “He entered the carriage pointed out to him, and was driven to the boat “without any tumult or further abuse."

Thus was the accredited agent of Massachusetts expelled from the soil of a sister State, while her colored citizens, guilty of no crime, were still doomed, though in the pursuit of their lawful avocations, to arrests, imprisonments, fines, and; for a second offence, to be sold at public sale as slaves. Thus, too, in violation of the guaranty that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the immunities and privileges of citizens of the several States," did South Carolina adhere, not only inflexibly but vauntingly, to her inhuman and lawless policy. Not only did the efforts of Massachusetts to protect her lowly and defenceless sons signally fail, but she found herself powerless either to maintain the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, which she felt herself bound to support, or to vindicate her co-equality among her sister States.

Significant, indeed, were the inquiries with which Mr. Hoar closed the report of his fruitless mission. “Has the Constitution of the United States the least practical validity or binding force in South Carolina? She prohibits the trial of an action in the tribunals established under the Constitution for determining such cases in which a citizen of Massachusetts complains that a citizen of South Carolina has done him an injury; saying that she has herself already tried that cause and decided against the plaintiff. She prohibits, not only by her mobs, but by her legislature, the residence of a free white citizen of Massachusetts within the limits of South Carolina whenever she thinks his presence there inconsistent with her policy. Are the other States of the Union to be regarded as the conquered provinces of South Carolina? "

But South Carolina was not alone in her violent and contumacious course. Henry Hubbard, a lawyer of Western Massachusetts, had been appointed the agent for Louisiana. His arrival in New Orleans threw the city into great excitement. At the outset he was careful to disclaim all connection with abolitionism, or any intention to interfere with slavery or with slaves at the South. The purpose of Massachusetts, he said, was to enable the citizens of that State, imprisoned without crime, to avail themselves of all lawful means for their liberation. In a communication to Governor Mouton he assured him that Massachusetts was simply striving to protect her own citizens, and had done nothing to infringe the right of her sister States. But all these explanations and disclaimers were unavailing. The excitement increased, the murmurs of hostile intent grew louder, and threats of lynching were freely circulated. Everything boded a popular outbreak.

Mr. Hubbard was waited upon by the city recorder, accompanied by Mr. Soule, afterward United States senator, and urged immediately to leave the city. As he declined compliance with these demands, the recorder, under great excitement, said to him: "It is from no motive but that of humanity that I come to warn you of your danger. If you do not promise to leave the city immediately, your life is not safe this night; and if I should take you into custody, I could not protect you, for they would murder me in a moment. If you stay here another night, your life will certainly be taken." He was assured, too, by Jacob Barker, a native of Massachusetts, but long a citizen of New Orleans, that his life was in imminent peril. Under these circumstances he addressed a letter to the governor of Louisiana, expressing his purpose, now that his mission was fruitless, immediately to leave the State. The law, the government, and the people of Louisiana were against his mission; and Mr. Hubbard returned home, made his report, and resigned his agency.

Thus Louisiana, like South Carolina, acting on the practical assumption that everything must be subordinate to the interests of slavery, did not hesitate to violate both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution; while Massachusetts, believing that the government was designed to secure the blessings of liberty to all, aimed to make it effectual in guarding the rights of the humblest of her citizens ; but she, found herself, under; the slavery regime, powerless for the protection of her most honored official representatives.

Nor could she look to the national government for the vindication of her rights. That, too, was bestrode by the Slave Power and compelled to do its bidding.  An appeal had already been made, and that appeal had been denied. In December, 1842, Mr. Winthrop of Massachusetts had presented a memorial of the citizens of Boston, owners and ·masters of vessels and others, representing that it was necessary to employ free persons of color in vessels entering the ports of. Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans ; that these men were frequently taken from their vessels and thrown into prison, greatly to the prejudice of their interests and the detriment of commerce; and they prayed Congress, to grant relief, and render effectual the privileges of citizenship secured by the Constitution.

This memorial had been referred to the Committee on Commerce, and Mr. Winthrop, who evinced in this case deep interest and zeal, had promptly reported that the judiciary alone could give relief from these oppressive laws, and the State alone could repeal them, But the committee reported a series of resolutions, trusting that their adoption by the House would not be without influence in securing for the petitioners, and much more for the seamen in their employ, the- redress they demanded. These resolutions pronounced that the seizure and imprisonment in the ports of any State of free colored seamen against whom there was no charge but that of entering such ports in pursuance of their lawful business, and the authorizing of such seizure and imprisonment by State laws, were in contravention of the paramount and exclusive power of the general government to regulate commerce, and were also in direct, positive and permanent conflict with the express provisions and fundamental principles of the national compact. The House of Representatives, however, under the lead of Cave Johnson of Tennessee, soon thereafter made Postmaster-General, laid those resolutions on the table by a large majority; and by so doing gave its sanction and encouragement to this inhuman, unjust, and unconstitutional State legislation.

Early in the session of 1845 Governor Briggs sent to the legislature Mr. Hoar's report, accompanied by a well-reasoned and temperate message. It was referred to a joint special committee, of which Charles Francis Adams was made chairman. That committee, on the 3d of February, reported resolves concerning the treatment of Samuel Hoar by the State of South Carolina, with a declaration to be adopted as the act of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This declaration clearly set forth the whole case in issue, and justified by indisputable facts and impregnable arguments the course Massachusetts had pursued. With becoming solemnity, as "in the presence of all Christian nations, of the civilized world, and of an omniscient, all-seeing Deity, the final judge of human action," she addressed " each of her sister States," entered her solemn protest, and arraigned South Carolina because the latter had disregarded " the comity acknowledged by all civilized communities," defied " the express stipulations of the Constitution," and refused to submit her action to be adjudged by the Supreme Court of the United States.

This admirable State paper, which was unanimously adopted and sent forth to the country, closed with this firm and dignified enunciation of the purposes of Massachusetts: " She will never relax in her demands of all the rights which belong to her as a State and member of the Union, or in the execution of her utmost energies in support of the undying principles of justice and liberty among men, the base of her social edifice, cemented in the blood of many of its founders, as they are the pride and honor of modern civilization."

This appeal awoke no response and secured no action from the offending States. Their cruel laws still continued to disgrace their statute-books, and Northern freemen were still subjected to their harsh and humiliating operation. Nor was there any relaxation until they were swept away by the fire and flood which destroyed the guilty cause itself. What and how potent was the agency which this persistent injustice, these continued oppressions, exerted in bringing on that struggle, Omniscience only knows. How important a factor it became in that combination of causes which hastened on the bloody struggle no human sagacity can divine. Nor can it be known how much the manly stand of Massachusetts, though then overborne, contributed to the building up of that power which, sixteen years later, grappled with slavery in arms and closed its career of crime.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 576-586.





See also Florida, Fugitive Slaves in

It was a standing charge against the .Abolitionists that they over-estimated the evils of slavery, exaggerated the wrongs of the slave, the guilt of the master, and the complicity of the· government. No accusation was ever more unfounded. The half was never told. As the civil war revealed a demoralization of slaveholding society never attributed to it or dreamed of, so do careful researches into the history of the country unfold a course of procedure indefensible according to any standard of morality, however low, and unrelieved by any acts of generosity, humanity, or· true dignity of character. The disgraceful and humiliating attitude of the government in its dealings with foreign powers whenever the interests of slavery' were involved have been: traced already. Its intercourse with the Indians, whenever these interests were in issue, has exhibited the same determ1ned devotion to the system, coupled with deeds of wanton: injustice and cruelty towards a few savages, whose real offence was that of, giving food and shelter to black men escaping from their masters.

Spanish settlements were made in Florida in the year 1558, and slaves were soon after introduced. Subsequently settlements were made on the Appalachicola River by slaves escaping from South Carolina and finding refuge there. Obtaining lands from the Spanish government, they became a part of the military defences of the country. They also found asylums among the Creek Indians in the State of Georgia. As early as 1738 South Carolina demanded of Georgia a return of these fugitives; but the demand was promptly rejected.

Early, too, slaves escaping from their masters in Georgia found refuge with the Creeks, and with the fugitive slaves there formed settlements upon the Appalachicola and Suwanee rivers, acquired property and became the owners of flocks and herds. Indeed, so frequent and annoying did these escapes become, that the Council of Safety early sent a communication to the Continental Congress, asking for troops to prevent them. General Lee, too, called the attention of Congress to the same evil, and also to the fact that these escaping fugitives were finding asylums among the Indians and the Florida exiles. Commissioners were, in consequence, appointed in 1785 to negotiate a treaty with the Creek Indians. They were met at Galphinton by commissioners from Georgia. These latter demanded a stipulation for the return of the slaves who were then with the Indians, and of any who might thereafter escape. As the Creeks were not represented, the United States commissioners declined to act, and retired. After they had left, however, the Georgia commissioners, in direct violation of the Articles of Confederation, made a treaty with the representatives of two townships, out of about one hundred belonging to the Creek nation. This treaty, negotiated by persons without authority on either part, provided that the Indians should restore all negroes who were then or might thereafter come among them, belonging to citizens of Georgia. The commissioners, reporting their action to the legislature of their State, received its formal thanks for what was done in plain and palpable violation of its confederate obligations, while the same body recorded their condemnation of the United States commissioners, because they refused to be parties to a treaty so fraudulent and unauthorized.

In attempting to enforce this treaty Georgia became involved in Indian hostilities, forcing then, as so frequently afterwards, the general government to action, and to espousal of her highhanded assaults, not merely upon the poor Creeks, but upon itself, as it stooped to the ignoble service of recording and enforcing the edicts of that ever-grasping and contumacous State. The commissioners who were previously appointed were now instructed to negotiate a treaty which should restore all fugitive slaves belonging to citizens of the United States.

On the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, the authorities of Georgia called upon the Federal government for protection against the Indians, from whom she claimed territory ostensibly ceded by the treaties of Galphinton and Shoulder Bone, though they were wrongfully obtained and promptly repudiated by those not fairly represented in the fraudulent transactions. President Washington appointed commissioners, and the governor of Georgia placed in their hands the names of one hundred and ten negroes, alleged to have left their masters during the Revolution, and to have found an asylum among the Indians. Though they were received with great respect by the Indians, their attempts at negotiation failed. Colonel Willett, a Revolutionary officer, was then sent, who succeeded in inducing a delegation to visit New York, where a treaty was negotiated in August, 1790: Framed in the interests of Georgia slaveholders, it stipulated for the return of absconding slaves. Thus, by a characteristic fatality and fatuity, which have ever· marked its self-assumed vassalage under the new Constitution, the government placed the brand of its own dishonor upon its first exercise of the treaty-making power, by prosecuting its negotiations clearly and confessedly in behalf of slavery. By this treaty the Creek nation pledged itself to deliver to the commander of the United States forces, stationed at a specified point, all negroes held by them; and it was further provided that if they were not delivered before the 1st of June, 1791, the governor of Georgia might send three persons to claim and receive them. By this treaty, also, which the President fondly hoped had laid the foundations of the future peace and prosperity of the Southwestern frontier, the Creeks had made stipulations, claiming not only to bind the Seminoles, another tribe, but that tribe residing in "Florida and under the Jurisdiction of Spain. These latter, however, denied this assumed authority, and utterly repudiated the provisions of the treaty the Creeks had presumed to make. Of course the latter could not fulfil its stipulations without invading Florida and forcibly seizing those who .had sought to secure their freedom under the Spanish crown

In consequence of the persistent urgency of the Georgia slaveholders, an agent was sent by the Creeks to negotiate for the return of the exiles, but the Spanish authorities peremptorily refused to surrender them again to slavery. The treaty being thus repudiated by the Spanish authorities and the exiles, Georgia., failing to secure her escaping slaves, denounced it herself, and declared that she would not be hound by what bad been adopted without consultation with her commissioners. Accordingly she sent military force into the Creek country, attacked one of their towns, killed some of the people, and burned their dwellings. If this conduct could be stripped of all the accessories of governmental prestige and the forms and dialect of courts, and be tested by the principles and claims of simple morality, as applied to the ordinary rules of human conduct, it would be difficult to equal it by any examples of selfishness, dishonesty, wanton cruelty, and disregard of the clearest claims of humanity, equity, and fair dealing. And yet, notwithstanding all this, General Knox, Secretary of War, in 1794, recommended to the President that Congress should make an appropriation for the owners of these exiles, -a proposition indorsed by Washington in a special message in its favor. No action, however, was taken.

By the Treaty of Peace it had been stipulated that the British forces, in retiring from the country, should not carry away any negroes or other property. The Southern slaveholders, ' who had lost several thousands of .slaves ,during the war, were inspired with confidence they would receive compensation also for those who had escaped to the British West Indies, and for those who had enlisted in the British army. The British ministry, however, firmly refused to negotiate for any such indemnification. Exasperated by this refusal they pressed their victims with still greater pertinacity, and by so doing greatly embarrassed the successive administrations of the general government. Failing to defeat Jay’s Treaty, which they opposed because it did not secure payment for their absconding slaves, the Georgia slaveholders grew more and more clamorous for the return of slaves who had found refuge in Florida. For increasing in numbers, and prosperity, they exerted no inconsiderable influence upon their neighboring bondmen, who very naturally desired to share with then the blessings of freedom.  Pressed, therefore, by the clamorous demands of the slave­holders, Washington, in l796, appointed commissioners to meet the chiefs and head men of the Greeks at Colerain, for the purpose of forming a new treaty. This council was attended by commissioners, on the part of Georgia who, failing in their attempts to control by their dictation the commissioners of the United States left the council before the close of its deliberations. The chiefs of the Creek nation maintained that they were bound only to return negroes captured after the Treaty of Peace. They declared that they had delivered up all they could, and they expressed their willingness at some future time to deliver up other negroes when they could do so. Yet, neither the commissioners, of the United States nor of the Indian chiefs at this council said anything about delivering up the exiles who had fled into Florida, nor is there any evidence that the commissioners of Georgia at this council, insisted on the obligations of the Creeks to return negroes residing with the Seminoles in Florida .

Nor was there any other than the robber's right to make any such demand. For early half ,a century --from 1750, when the Seminoles left Georgia they had refused any allegiance to that State, had maintained their independence, and had received the protection of the Spanish government. Such a denial of prerogative, and such a maintenance of independence for so long a tine would have been sufficient answer to any such claim among civilized nations should the far less obvious and less defined coherence among savage tribes perpetuate an allegiance persistently denied, and invalidate an independence so long and so stoutly maintained ? Surely, naught but the exigencies of slavery and the sublime impudence of its defenders could ever have conceived of such a claim, much less have maintained it. And yet the unquestionably false allegation that the treaty of New York recognized that claim was adhered to, and the interpretation of Georgia then and years afterward was persisted in, that the Seminoles were bound by this alleged compact of the Creeks, though they were living under Spanish rule.

Little was done, however, during the administrations of Adams and Jefferson, to disturb these exiles, and they increased in numbers and prosperity. But in 1802 it was enacted, in a new law regulating intercourse with Indian tribes that the value of any slave escaping and taking up his residence with any Indian tribe in the United States should be secured to his master. Of course the slaves, who had escaped into Florida from Georgia, with their children and grandchildren around them, excited the cupidity and hostility of the Georgia slaveholders. But living on Spanish soil, and under the protection of Spanish laws, they were beyond their reach. To seek their re--enslavement by obtaining jurisdiction over this territory became, then, the object of effort. The annexation of Florida was, therefore, warmly pressed by the slaveholding interest upon the government. Consequently a law was passed in secret session, in 1811, for taking possession of Florida ; and General Matthews, a Georgia slaveholder, without either per· mission or negotiation, took possession of Amelia Island. The government of Spain, of course, remonstrated, and the act was disavowed by the President. Matthews was recalled, and Governor Mitchell appointed a commissioner, who continued to hold forcible possession of the island, in violation of the claims of national comity and good faith towards the Spanish government.

In 1812 the governor of Georgia, in like violation of national faith, sent an armed force into Florida, under the command of the adjutant-general of that State, for the utterly indefensible and outrageous purpose of exterminating the Seminoles, and recapturing the slaves whom the Indians would not surrender. But this force, meeting with little success, was obliged to return after having stolen a large number of slaves from their Spanish masters. Those thus deprived of their slaves urged their demands for compensation; and thirty years afterward John Quincy Adams presented a list of more than ninety slaves thus stolen. Georgia, still persisting in its purpose, resolved, through its legislature, that Florida was necessary to its safety, and an act was passed to raise a military force to reduce St. Augustine, and punish the Indians. A military force was therefore raised, and another raid into Spanish territory was made, a few towns were burned, and cornfields were destroyed; but the expedition returned, unable either to conquer Florida, exterminate the Seminoles, or capture the hated exiles.

Another circumstance occurred soon after, not only exhibit­ing the same determination on the part of the slaveholders, but the humiliating alacrity of the general government to do their bidding and execute their ignoble purpose upon the unoffending blacks and their kind protectors. During the war of 1812 a small British force, under Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols, landed in Florida, and built a fort upon the Appalachicola River. After the close of the war and the withdrawal of the British forces this fort was left in possession of the exiles, whose plantations extended for many miles up the river. In the month of May, 1815, General Gaines, commanding on the Southern frontier, wrote to the Secretary of War that these exiles had' taken possession of that fort. He and other officers kept watch of this " negro fort," and in their correspondence with the government denounced the negroes as runaways and outlaws, although they had committed no offence, and were peaceably pursuing their own affairs.

This fort, though sixty miles from the frontiers of the United States, greatly excited the attention of the military authorities, who, like the government, were in full sympathy with the slaveholders. In the month of May, 1816, General Jackson· wrote to General Gaines that the fort " ought to be blown up, regardless of the ground on which it stands; and," he added,” if your mind has formed the same conclusion, destroy it, and  return the stolen .negroes and property to their rightful owner." This permission to invade the territory of a power with which the nation was at peace was promptly acted upon by General Gaines. Colonel Clinch with his regiment and a few hundred Creek Indians, under Mcintosh, one of their chiefs entered Florida literally “to blow up the fort and return the Negros to their rightful owners." Commodore Patterson detailed Sailing-Master Lewis, with two gunboats to assist the military forces in this slave-catching foray. This military and naval force, on the 27th of July, assaulted this “negro fort.,'' in ·which had gathered three hundred and thirty-four persons, many of whom were women and children, nearly all being either negroes who had escaped from the United States or their descendants. After a brief cannonade a hot shot entered the powder magazine, which blew up, instantly killing two hundred and seventy, and injuring all but three others. Monette, in history of the Valley of the Mississippi," says that neatly the whole of the inmates were involved in indiscriminate destruction; not one sixth of the whole escaped. “The cries of ·the wounded, the groans of the dying, with the shouts and yells of the wounded rendered the scene horrible beyond description." Those who recovered from their wounds were delivered over to claimants in Georgia.  In some instances they were given up to the descendants of those who claimed to have owned their ancestors generations before.

More than twenty years afterward Congress assumed the responsibility and gui1t of this wicked and wanton act and passed -without opposition a bill giving five thousand dollars to the officers and crew of the gunboats for their gallant conduct in this brutal and bloody massacre, which will stand, in the words of Mr. Giddings, in his “Exiles of Florida," "as the darkest crimes which stains the history of any civilized nation”. In this massacre it is estimated that more than one third of the Florida exiles perished, or were re-enslaved.  Mr. Clay and other senators and representatives condemned this lawless invasion of Florida, as an act of hostility towards Spain; but not a voice was raised in condemnation of those atrocities against the weak and comparatively defenceless blacks and the Indian friends who shared their fate. So strangely oblivious had the nation become to the simplest claims of humanity and justice.

Outrages so violent and unprovoked cou1d of necessity be neither forgotten nor easily forgiven. The sense of such wronged and outraged humanity rankled in the breasts of the Indians, and they could not but retaliate, however hopeless their condition and however mad their attempt against a people so much their superior in numbers and in the arts of warfare. They did retaliate though but feebly and yet their hostile demonstrations were seized upon as an occasion for sending forces into their country in plain violation of international law. In. 1817 General Gaines was ordered to enter Florida, and General Jackson took the field for the subjugation of the Indians and the exiles. With a large force the latter entered the country 1n April, 1818, defeated the Indians and exiles, and destroyed several of their towns. The Negros, knowing there was no alternative but death or slavery, fought bravely in several actions, but were finally defeated at Suwanee River. The survivors retired towards the more southern portions of the Territory.  More than half of the exiles had perished, and a vast amount of wretchedness was occasioned by the lawless cruel, and wicked invasion. Not only were ail domestic quiet and thrift at an end, and the productive industry of these people ,checked, but their flocks, herds., and other property were destroyed. An inconsiderable number were captured and returned to their greedy masters. But as a people they were unconquered. They had set the government at defiance, and had baffled all its attempts to subjugate them. Besides slaves still escaping from Georgia and Alabama were soon added to their numbers, and they seemed to the excited and sensitive slave-masters a growing menace on their southern border.

Baffled in their appeal to arms, the slave-masters were not disheartened, but determined to seek through diplomacy what they could not gain by military achievements. They therefore demanded the annexation of Florida, and an obsequious government purchased it by yielding its c1aim to Texas; and thus the Seminoles and the exiles of Florida were brought under a control they so much dreaded, and had so much reason to dread. As if that were not enough, the slaveholders pressed with redoubled and scandalous importunity their claims of indemnity for the slaves they had lost. Consequently, under the direction of Mr. Calhoun, Secretary of War, a treaty was negotiated in 1821, with the Creek Indians at "Indian Spring." By this treaty five millions of acres of valuable land were ceded, and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars were set apart for the payment for slaves claimed by Georgia. Out of this fund the claims of Georgia · were paid in 1822. Thus Georgia, instead of the punishment she, so richly deserved for her violent and disloyal conduct towards the general government, as well as for her wanton outrages upon the Indians and the exiles, was paid for her slaves from the proceeds of lands thus extorted from the helpless victims of superior force ; and though the amount received, according to Attorney-General Wirt, was three times their actual value, yet they clamored for the one hundred and forty-one thousand dollars held by the United States, which really belonged to the Creeks. And this sum was afterwards paid to them.

In September, 1822, General Jackson proposed another outrage and act of tyrannous oppression upon the Seminoles; that they should be united with the Creeks and returned to the Creek nation, because, he said, these Indian settlements “would be a perpetual harbor for our slaves." He also declared that “these runaway slaves must be removed from the Florida, or scenes of murder and confusion will exist." In negotiating the “Indian Spring " treaty with the Creeks, that nation, as seen above, was held responsible for the conduct of the Seminoles, who , against their earnest protest were deemed and held a part of the nation. But having obtained compensation for runaway slaves from the Creeks, the government, with shameless audacity, changed its position and assumed that the Seminoles were an independent people. The interests of slavery demanded this; and Mr. Calhoun, regardless of the inconsistencies into which it might lead him, was ever true to slavery. A treaty was negotiated with the Seminoles in September, 1823, at Camp Moultrie. By this treaty the Indians were to retire from the coast, where were their homes and property and the graves of their dead, and occupy a country south of Tampa Bay, where they were promised protection by the government of the United States against " all persons whatsoever."

By this treaty the Seminoles were compelled to stipulate " to be active and vigilant in preventing the retreating to or passing through the country assigned them of any absconding slave or fugitive from justice; and they further agree to use all necessary exertions to apprehend and deliver the same to the agent, who shall receive orders to compensate them agreeably to the trouble and expense incurred." The country which the exiles had cultivated and bravely defended was given up to white men, and they were compelled to retire and find their homes in the swamps and forests of the interior. Unscrupulous oppressors not only seized the possessions of their escaped fugitives, but whenever they could seize the fugitives themselves they made them their slaves. Slave-catchers sought by fraud and violence to obtain possession of those negroes wherever they could be found, as the presumption of law was that every black man was a slave unless he could prove himself free. The Indians held a few slaves, and these were often seized by the whites. They justly complained, but having no knowledge of legal proceedings, had no remedy.

The Secretary of War, in 1825, issued an order concerning fugitive slaves among the Seminoles, and directed the Indian agent at Tallahassee to take measures to enable the slave claimants to identify their property so that it might be immediately restored. This Indian agent in obedience to his instructions, emphatically declared: “Let the chiefs distinctly understand that they are not to harbor runaway negroes, and that they will be required to give up such negroes as are now residing within their limits." The military forces of the United States being openly detailed to arrest fugitives, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington, in 1827, wrote to the Indian agent in Florida, reproving him for his remissness in making such captures.  It even went so far as to decided particular cases, and to order the agent in Florida to capture certain slaves then claimed by certain persons; the, Indian chiefs complained that, contrary to the stipulations of the treaty made at Camp Moultrie white men were in their county searching for slaves. To these- remonstrances of the savage chief against the violation of the treaty the agent of the United States had no other reply to make than to state the fact that they were there by permission given them by the Secretary of War. Thus these slave-catchers, unscrupulous, heartless, and cruel, with the simple intent to make money, were by the permission of' the government roaming over the Indian country, contrary to tile sacred guaranties' of the nation. The rapacity of the slave-traders increased, and outrages perpetrated upon the negroes and Indians continued. A complete despotism reigned. The Indians became alarmed and indignant at these persistent aggressions, and war seemed again inevitable.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 123-134.



In the debates of Congress the point of view of the south was that the power of the federal government over slavery was negative; the use of federal machinery was disclaimed. At the same time it was expected that through the clauses of the Constitution on interstate relations affirmative support should - - be given to slavery. "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts and judicial Proceedings of every other State "1--that is, statute books and judicial records are to be accepted as evidence of legal status and of legal proceedings, under the laws of the state issuing them; the state courts were to apply the laws and decisions of other states, as of foreign countries.

When part of the states swept away all their previous legislation on slavery, the degree of effect which either side would give to the law of the other became a disputed question. For instance, did the clause on "privileges and immunities of citizens"

1 Article IV., sec. 

give a master a right to carry his slaves into another state? Did it give negro citizens in one state the right to go into another state? Indiana and Illinois forbid their entrance, but when Missouri, in 1821, tried to do the same thing, a compromise had to be contrived to get around the difficulty. 1

After the unsuccessful Denmark Vesey insurrection of 1820, suspicion was strong against every negro. South Carolina passed a series of laws, commonly called the "negro seamen acts," which provided in effect that whenever a ship arrived in port any negroes on board must go to jail, there to stay till the vessel was ready to sail again. Northern states at once protested that their citizens were thus deprived of their "privileges and immunities"; and the British government made similar remonstrances.2 After an opinion of Attorney-General Wirt that the law was unconstitutional, South Carolina relaxed the measure as against England, but continued it against the northern states. 3

Under pressure from the anti-slavery people, the Massachusetts legislature, in 1844, sent Samuel Hoar as a commissioner to Charleston, to make a test case of a negro citizen of Massachusetts deprived of rights in South Carolina, to be brought to the supreme court. A committee of the South Carolina legislature

1 Turner, New West (Am. Nation, XIV.), chap. x.

2 Niles' Register, XXVII., 242.

3 Opinions of Attorneys-General, I., 659-66I.

thereupon voted that "this agent comes here  not as a citizen of the United States, but as an emissary of a foreign Government hostile to our domestic institutions and with the sole purpose of subverting our internal police." The legislature passed resolutions demanding the exclusion of Mr. Hoar, and he was notified that his life was in danger, and left Charleston--an example of how little state comity could be relied upon in any measure against slavery. The southern states were inclined to claim the principle that the status of a slave, created only by the law of his domicile, might under some circumstances follow him into a free state. This principle was tested in various ways. When a master deliberately took a slave into a free state, freedom suits were occasionally brought ; though the northern courts sustained the' state emancipation provisions they sometimes gave validity to so-called "indentures" or written agreements by negroes to serve a master for life. As to temporary residence of slaves, in Massachusetts the law in terms forbade it for any cause. 2 In other states the courts held that the anti-slavery clauses of the constitutions did not apply to such cases.3 If they voluntarily returned with their masters, southern courts, especially

1 Greeley, American Confiict, I., 180-185; Niles' Register, LXVII., 226.

2 Commonwealth vs. Aves, 18 Pick., 193.

3 Supreme Court of Illinois, in Willard vs. the People,

4 Scammon, 461; Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage, II., 359.

in Missouri and Louisiana, frequently held that they reverted to slavery. 1 

Complications also came over the claim to a "right of transit" from one place in a slave-holding state to another, or from a slave-holding state to a foreign country, through free territory, or along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, lying between free and slave states. The claim· was that interstate or international comity, and the "privileges and immunities" clause, gave the slave-owner protection during the few hours or days of travel. The laws of Indiana permitted such transit provided no purchases were made amounting to "location." 2 Not so those of Pennsylvania. In 1855, John H. Wheeler, of North Carolina, on his way to New York and thence to Nicaragua, to which country he had been appointed minister, brought a slave woman named J came to Philadelphia. While sitting on board the boat in which they had arrived, she was informed by Passmore Williamson, secretary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, that under the laws of the state she was free to go where she would, and she left the boat against the express will of her master. Frantic efforts were made to recover Jane by habeas corpus, and Williamson was charged with abducting her; whereupon she appeared in court

1 Collins vs. America, 9 B. Monroe, 565; Rachael vs. Walker 4 Mo. Supreme Court, 350; Goodloe, Southern Platform, 73.

2 Several interesting cases in Coffin, Reminiscences, 195-202, 534:-541, 554-557.

and testified that she had always desired to be free and had the intention to escape in New York. Williamson was then charged with contempt of court for asserting that Jane was free and desired her freedom, but the state courts upheld Jane's status as a free woman, and Williamson was eventually released.1

The only class of Southern negroes in northern states for whom the federal government took responsibility was the "fugitives from service or labor." 2 Though the act of 1793 permitted the claimant of a fugitive to carry him before either a federal or a state magistrate for decision as to whether he was the person described in the claimant's documents, state officials were usually called upon to render judgment. When the abolitionists came upon the scene they began to stir up their legislatures to pass what came to be known as "personal liberty laws," intended to protect free colored people from kidnapping and from unfounded claims under the federal statute. Some of these laws were hardly compatible with the national act; for instance, Pennsylvania passed, in 1826, a law which prohibited the carrying away of negroes to be enslaved, but which also protected persons claimed as fugitives. A series of similar acts was passed by half a dozen northern states between 1824 and 1840:

1 Still, Underground Railroad, 86-97.

2 Extracts from accounts of fugitives, in Hart, Contemporaries, IV., §§ 29-33.

Indiana and Connecticut provided a jury trial for alleged fugitives, an example followed by Vermont and New York, and Connecticut also forbade state officials to take part in fugitive-slave cases. New York and Vermont provided that state attorneys should act as legal advisers for the negroes in such cases. One state, Ohio, in 1839, passed a fugitive law of its own, giving the master more privileges than under the federal statute.

The irritation at the capture of fugitives shown by the personal liberty bills soon took the form of defiance of the federal law. In 1836 occurred a damage suit against abolitionists for aiding fugitives to escape, and of violent rescue of a fugitive.1 In 1837 the field of such interference was extended to the west, where the slave Matilda, who was being taken by her master (and father) down the river, walked ashore from the steamer at Cincinnati and found employment with the family of James G. Birney, who asked no questions about her. When her whereabouts were discovered, she was claimed and surrendered as a fugitive, though Chase, as counsel, insisted that she had been voluntarily brought within the jurisdiction of the state by her master.

A test case of intentional breach of the law was that of John Van Zandt, a former Kentuckian, but an abolitionist and official of the Underground Railroad, who was driving a market wagon in the neighborhood of Cincinnati very early one morning

1 Niles' Register, L., 423; McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, § 42.

in 1840 and, by a coincidence which was never explained, fell in with a party of nine slaves who had escaped from the other side of the river that night. While carrying them out into the country, they were stopped by two people who had no legal authority, and all the slaves except one were returned to the owners.1

Such incidents showed the determination of the abolitionists that the fugitive-slave law should not be carried out. A Supreme Court decision now both strengthened and weakened the force of the act of 1793. A woman named Margaret Morgan, a fugitive from Maryland, in 1837 was discovered in Pennsylvania by Edward Prigg, an agent of her master, who seized her without the simple process provided by the law, and thereby violated the Pennsylvania statute of 1826 against the kidnapping of negroes. Prigg was convicted of this latter offence in the Pennsylvania courts, but appeal was brought to the supreme court of the United States, which in 1842 2 reached a decision to the effect that the owner of the slave had a right to recover him under the federal statute without restraint by any conflicting state acts; at the same time it held that the act-of 1793 could not be construed to create any obligation of the state authorities to take part in the administration of the law. Just at this time a fugitive named Latimer was seized in Boston.

1 Hart, Chase, 75; Schuckers, Chase, 53.

2 Prigg vs. Pennsylvania, 16 Peters, 539,  

On the basis of the Prigg decision, Chief-Justice Shaw refused to issue the habeas corpus provided by the state liberty bill so as to take the custody of Latimer from the federal authorities. The abolitionists held a succession of public meetings to protest, and if possible to prevent the return of Latimer, and finally ended the excitement by raising the necessary four hundred dollars to buy his freedom.1 This experience aided the abolitionists, for, so far from putting an end to the personal liberty bills, the Prigg case suggested a new crop, some passed simply with the purpose of taking advantage of the right to withdraw the use of the state machinery of magistrates and jails and prosecutors; other states set out with the deliberate intention of avoiding or interfering with the act of 1793· Hence, the personal liberty laws were felt to be a burning grievance by the south, especially after the second federal la-w: of 1850.2 The authority of the federal statute was further ·shored up through a damage suit against Van Zandt for the value of the slave who had escaped in 1840 through his means. Chase, as counsel, did his best, but judgment was obtained against Van Zandt for twelve hundred dollars. In 1847 the case came before the supreme court on appeal, and Seward and ·chase made arguments. Chase's point was that the

1 McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, § 44.

2 See later statute, Smith, Parties and Slavery (Am. Nation, XVIII.), chap. xix.; Parker, Personal Liberty Laws.

Fugitive-slave law was contrary to the ordinance of 1787 and to the Constitution of the United States, and that the states and not the nation were intended to legislate on the subject: the court squarely and thoroughly affirmed the constitutionality of the federal fugitive-slave law.1

The tide of anti-slavery feeling had now risen to a point where, law or no law, decision or no decision, the return of fugitives was openly resisted. In the decade from 1840 to 1850 came a dozen or more exciting seizures, though in only one instance, the Walker case (1844), did the fugitive escape. The Kennedy case in 1847 made a great noise, because the owner, a Maryland man, tried to seize his fugitive without the usual process of the law, was resisted, and broke his knee-cap. The riot caused the trial of thirty-six people, and Kennedy,' who does not appear to have been seriously injured in the scrimmage, died during his convalescence-- to many minds this seemed a clear case of the murder of a master by his slave.2 

Another part of the act of 1793 provided that persons charged with a crime in one state and fleeing to another state might be returned on a requisition made by one governor upon the other governor. Slave stealing, including assisting fugitives to escape, was a crime known to the statute-books of all the southern states, but impossible to commit in com-

1 Jones vs. Van Zandt, s Howard, 215; Hart; Chase, 76-80.

2 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., 801.

munities where there was no legal slavery-was it an offence extraditable under the statute? This question was raised when, in May, 1837, the officers of the schooner Susan, bound from Georgia, allowed a negro stowaway to escape on reaching port in Maine. The governor of Georgia sent a requisition for them on the charge of slave stealing in Georgia; but Governor Dunlap took the rather narrow ground that the officers of the Susan had not "fled from justice,'' inasmuch as they left Georgia before they were charged with the crime.1 The governor of. Georgia thereupon proposed to his legislature to consider all sailor citizens of Maine, who came to Georgia, "as doing so with the intent to commit the crime of seducing negro slaves from their owners." 2

A similar case occurred in 1839, when three sailors on a vessel bound to New York encouraged a slave to escape from Norfolk. The fugitive was recaptured, but Governor William H. Seward, who had travelled through the south, and had a personal dislike of slavery, twice declined to grant a requisition for the. sailors, because the extradition clause "applied only to those acts which, if committed within the jurisdiction of the state in which the accused is found, would be felonious . . . or criminal, by the laws of that state . . . or by the laws of all civilized countries." The controversy lasted several years: the legislature of New York backed their governor up

1 Niles' Register, LIII., 71; Senate Docs., 26 Cong., 1 Sess., No. 273.

2 Von Holst, United States, II., 540.     

by passing a personal liberty law, under which every person claimed as a fugitive was entitled to a jury trial; Virginia replied by a statute requiring a special inspection of all vessels ,bound to New York from Virginia; while Mississippi offered to unite· with " other states in any mode or measure of resistance or redress." 1

The uproar was resumed in 1860 when the commonwealth of Kentucky appealed to the federal Supreme Court for a mandamus to compel the governor of Ohio to surrender one William Lago, a free negro under indictment in Kentucky for assisting a fugitive to escape. The supreme court took the ground that there was a legal right to demand extradition for an offence not defined by the statute-book of the state to which he had fled, and that it was a "moral duty" of the governor of Ohio .to give up Lago; but that "there is no power delegated to the general government, either through the judicial department or any other department, to use any coercive means to compel him." 2

Whether it was possible for a person in one state to commit" a crime of which other states could take cognizance, without the alleged criminal leaving his own domicile, was a question raised when abolition newspapers and other controversial material was sent to people in the southern states. These papers

1 Bancroft, Seward, I., I0I – I04; Lothrop, Seward, 39-42; McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, § 47. ·

2 Kentucky vs. Dennison, 24 Howard, I03-I 10.  

contained rude wood-cuts illustrating the cruel treatment of slaves, and many allusions to the injustice and illegality of slavery. In several southern cities such papers were seized in July, 1835, by self-constituted guardians of the peace, and burned before thousands of spectators. The postmaster of Charleston appealed to the postmaster of New York to stop sending such matter; and he asked the anti-slavery societies to discontinue their use of the mails-a request which they refused to consider. The postmaster - general, Amos Kendall, himself a slaveholder, declined to issue any official order to exclude matter duly mailed, but added the significant hint: "We owe an obligation to the laws, but a higher one to the communities in which we live." With this statement, which bears a singular kinship to the "higher law" principle of the abolitionists, the postmaster was well enough contented, and no more abolition mail was delivered in Charleston.

In this virtual approval of a search and censorship of the mail, Kendall was supported by President Jackson, 1 who, in his annual message of 1835, suggested action by Congress. Calhoun introduced a Senate bill in 1836 providing that any mail matter (other than letters) touching the subject of slavery should not be delivered in any state prohibiting the circulation of such matter; 2 and he got nineteen

1 Niles' Register, XLVIII., 402, 447; Kendall, Autobiography, 648; Richardson, Messages and Papers, III., 1 5.

2 Debates of Congress, 24 Cong., 1 Sess., 386.

votes in favor of his proposal against twenty-five. Congress was held back by constitutional objections: it was to enact in advance laws not yet made by the states, and also to make as many different kinds of federal law as there were varieties of state legislation on the subject. Nevertheless, in our day the disputed principles have been conceded; the federal government excludes from the mails matter which the post-office authorities deem dangerous to morals, such as obscene literature and lottery mail; and by the original package act, Congress in a sense reenacts the state statutes prohibiting, the sale of liquor, and thereby makes a federal law in some states which does not apply to others.

If the agitators could not be silenced, might they not be punished? Some efforts were made to indict and then to extradite leading abolitionists; and in 1831 it was publicly suggested that Garrison should be " prosecuted in the place where he had procured his incendiary paper to be distributed "-that is, in the south.1 The only serious attempt to carry out this method was set forth by the grand jury of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, September, 1835, in the following indictment: "Robert G. Williams, late of said county, being a wicked, malicious, seditious and ill-disposed person, and being greatly disaffected to the laws ... of said state, and feloniously, wickedly, maliciously and seditiously contriving, devising and intending to produce conspiracy, insurrection and

1 Garrisons, Garrison, I., 239.

rebellion among the slave population of said state, . . . did cause to be distributed, circulated and published, a seditious paper called The Emancipator [containing the expression] ' God commands and all nature cries out that man should not be held as property.'" 1 Governor Gayle, of Alabama, thereupon called upon Governor Marcy, of New York, to surrender Williams. But Marcy was unable to see how a crime could be committed in Alabama by a man who was at the moment in New York, and how a man could "flee" from a state in which he had never set foot.

In several instances rewards were offered for the delivery of particular abolitionists, especially Arthur Tappan, of New York; and by an official statute of Georgia, December 26, 1831, five thousand dollars was appropriated "to be paid to any person or persons who shall arrest, bring to trial and prosecute to conviction, under the laws of this state, the editor or publisher of a certain paper called the Liberator." 2

 The difficulty of appealing to the good - will of neighbors and to the general principles of comity between nations was manifested in the foreign relations of the country after 1840, when all the neighboring countries except Cuba and Porto Rico, some of the French colonies and the empire of Brazil, were free; while the United States stood in the eyes

1 Niles' Register, XLIX., 358.

2 Garrisons, Garrison, I., 247; Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery, 410.

of the world as a slave-holding country. Flanked north and south by the free territory of Canada and Mexico, the slave-holders lost live property across both borders. The strength of the British emancipationist party was so great that it was useless to revive projects for a treaty for the surrender of fugitive slaves from Great Britain. On the other hand, the slave states refused to accept foreign negroes as citizens on the same footing as whites; and in 1831 Attorney -General Berrien gave the opinion that the South Carolina seaman act was a police regulation, against which the British government had no reasonable right Of Complaint.1 

The slave-trade continued after 1830, as before, to disturb the friendly relations between the United States and her neighbors. Notwithstanding the severe statutes between 1820 and 1830, very little effort was made to enforce them; the greater part of the trade to Brazil and the Spanish colonies was under the United States flag; and several thousand slaves were shipped into the United States every year.2 Unless a vessel could be overhauled on the high seas and required to show her papers, it was impossible to stop the slave-trade, and Great Britain had an active navy and was fitted to be the police man of the seas; but the United States would admit

1 Opinions of Attorneys-General, II., 426-442.

2 DuBois, Suppression of the Slave-Trade, 143; cf. President Tyler's message, February 20, 1845, in Richardson, Messages and Papers, IV., 362-364.

no "right of search " even to find out whether a vessel was entitled to fly the American flag, 1 and the trade by Americans was little disturbed.

A "right of visit " to ascertain the charter of the ship was conceded by France and several of the smaller European powers; and in 1841 England secured the so-called "Quintuple Treaty," signed by Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, to recognize this practice among them. Without instructions, Lewis Cass, the American minister to France, published a pamphlet intended to prove that the purpose of Great Britain was to set up a new principle of international law which would eventually be forced upon the United States, and he lodged an effective protest against the ratification of the treaty by France. 2 The method was harsh and unusual, the danger remote, but it turned the discussion into another channel, and in the Ashburton treaty of 1842 the United States and Great Britain entered into a "cruising convention" by which they agreed to maintain a joint squadron for the suppression of slavers on the coast of Africa.

It remains to notice a group of difficulties arising out of the appearance in the ports of other countries of American vessels lawfully carrying slaves. In

1 Schuyler, Diplomacy; pt. ii., 248-252; Channing, Works, VI., 363-368.

2 DuBois, Suppression of the Slave-Trade, 143-146; Schuyler, Diplomacy, pt. ii., 252; McLaughlin, Cass, 175-182.

1831 the ship Comet, with slaves bound from an Atlantic to a Gulf port, was wrecked upon the Bahamas and the slaves on board were brought to Nassau and set free, on the ground that the British law did not recognize slavery on the high seas. In 1833 the Encomium, in 1835 the Enterprise, and in 1840 the Hermosa were brought within the British jurisdiction in about the same way. The United States demanded an indemnity for all these slaves, and asserted that the accidental presence of the vessels in British waters did not dissolve the relations of master and slave which existed under the law of the place from which they set sail. It was easy to point out that the ports of the United States as such were neither slave-holding nor free; that the status of slavery was created by commonwealths which could claim no jurisdiction of any kind on the high seas, and which had no direct diplomatic relations with any foreign country. Nevertheless, it was inequitable that England should set these cargoes of slaves free while slavery was not completely extinguished in her own colonies. After long negotiations, in 1840 Great Britain allowed an indemnity of one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars for the slaves on board the Comet and Encomium, because these cases occurred previous to completion of the West India emancipation; but notice was given that no further payments of that kind would be made. The Senate, by resolution, then claimed that the Enterprise case was a violation of international law, but no redress could be had. 1

While these negotiations were pending arose the case of the ship L'Amistad, which, in June, 1839, left Havana bound to another Spanish port, having on board certain persons described in a certificate held by two of the passengers as "slaves." In reality they were persons imported from Africa contrary to Spanish law, and therefore legally free. On the voyage the Africans rose, killed the officers, and compelled one of the ship's company to navigate the vessel, as they supposed towards Africa ; in reality he edged towards the coast, where in August they were picked up by Lieutenant Gedney in a federal revenue-cutter. 2 

The affair gave rise to unexampled complications: Gedney claimed salvage; Ruiz and Montez, the masters, claimed their slaves; the negroes, in whom the abolitionists took great interest and who were well defended, claimed their liberty; the Spanish minister, under the treaty of 1795, claimed the restoration of both ship and cargo as "property rescued from pirates," -the negroes having the double distinction of being pirates and booty, President Van Buren was ready to surrender them, but the federal courts took jurisdiction and the supreme court, on appeal, gave judgment that the papers were not prima-facie evidence of the status of the

1 Moore, International Arbitrations, I., 408-412.

2 Wharton, Digest of American International Law, § 161.

negroes, who in law were free when they left Havana, and, as freemen, were entitled to kill those who attempted to carry them into slavery; and the United States was under no obligation to interfere. The captives were allowed to go free and remained in the United States.1

The shock to the south caused by this decision was increased in November, 1841; by the case of the American ship Creole, bound from Hampton Roads to New Orleans with a cargo of slaves. Perhaps inspired by the L'Amistad incident, the slaves rose, killed one person, and carried the vessel into the port of Nassau, where they were discharged by the British government. Although Webster, as secretary of state, demanded their return for "mutiny and murder," a claim which virtually made them out to be subject to the officers of the ship, Charles Sumner took the ground that "they became free men when taken, by the voluntary action of their owners; beyond the jurisdiction of the slave states." 2 Had they been white men they would have been surrendered; had they escaped without a fight they could not have been demanded as criminals; but Webster held that, inasmuch as slaves were recognized as property by the Constitution of the United States in those states in which slavery existed, that status continued at sea.3

1 Baldwin, in New Haven Hist. Soc., Papers, IV., 341-371; Opinions of Attorneys-General, III., 484-492; 15 Peters, 518.

2 Pierce, Sumner, II., 200.

3 Moore, International Arbitrations, I., 410-412.

The case was different from the L'Amistad in that the slaves were legally held at the time of departure; and it was stretching British emancipation a long way to apply it to such a circumstance. Ten years of negotiations brought about no agreement, and in 1853 the question was submitted to the arbitration of Joshua Bates, an English banker, American born, who decided that an indemnity was due, and a hundred and ten thousand dollars was paid by the British government to extinguish this obligation. 2

1 Moore, International Arbitrations, I., 417.

Source:  Hart, Albert Bushnell, Slavery and Abolition. In Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed., The American Nation: A History, Vol. 16, 276-295. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.


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