04/28/16

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts

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Daniel Webster circa 1847Daniel Webster of Massachusetts was an outspoken advocate for the shipping and industrial interests of his state. He was a powerful orator and was nationally known for his speaking ability. Webster was a prominent Whig who championed the elites of his region. “He was a thoroughgoing elitist, and he reveled in it,” says biographer Robert Vincent Remini.

Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire in 1782. He and his nine siblings grew up on their parents’ farm, a small parcel of land granted to his father. His ancestors were among the early settlers of Salisbury.

Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College. After he graduated from Dartmouth (Phi Beta Kappa), Webster was apprenticed to the lawyer Thomas W. Thompson in Salisbury. But his career was short lived as he left to support his older brother’s studies by working as a schoolteacher.

After a year, he returned to the law in 1802 and two years later he moved to Boston where he clerked for Christopher Gore. Gore’s practice encompassed international, national, and state politics. Webster learned about many aspects of the law and met many Massachusetts politicians. In 1805, he was admitted to the bar.

He returned to New Hampshire shortly after being admitted to the bar due to his father’s declining health. He set up a law practice in Boscawen but after his father’s death in 1896 he handed over his practice to his brother and moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Daniel Webster was a Federalist who had been educated at the Federalist-leaning Dartmouth College. In 1807 Thomas Jefferson had pushed through the Embargo Act of 1807, stopping all trade to both Britain and France. As New England relied on commerce with the two nations, the region strongly opposed Jefferson’s attempt at “peaceable coercion.” Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.

The trouble between the United States and Britain escalated into the War of 1812. Webster gave a speech in the same year at the Washington Benevolent Society, a speech that proved critical to his career. The speech condemned the war and the violation of New England’s shipping rights that preceded it, but it also strongly denounced the extremism of those more radical among the unhappy New Englanders who were beginning to call for the region’s secession from the Union.

Webster’s outspokenness led to his election to the House of Representatives in 1812. He would remain in the House until March 1817. He was an outspoken critic of the Madison administration and its wartime policies, denouncing its efforts at financing the war through paper money and opposing Secretary of War James Monroe‘s conscription proposal.

Notable in his second term was his support of the reestablishment of a stable specie-based national bank; but he opposed the tariff of 1816 (which sought to protect the nation’s manufacturing interests) and House Speaker Henry Clay’s American System.

Webster did not seek a third term and he returned to his law practice which he moved from Portsmouth to Boston. He had married in 1808 and was to have four children with his wife Grace.

Webster was one of the foremost constitutional lawyers of the early 1800’s. He argued 223 cases before the Marshall Court, winning about half of them. Marshall patterned some of his Court decisions after Webster’s briefs, and Webster played a crucial role in helping many of the justices interpret matters of constitutional law. As a result many people began calling him the Great Expounder of the Constitution.

With the help of a coalition of Federalists and Republicans, Webster was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts in June 1827. His first wife died in 1828 and he remarried a year later.

Webster became New England’s champion in the fight over the Tariff of 1828. Webster changed his position to support a protective tariff in 1828 explaining that after the failure of the rest of the nation to heed New England’s objections in 1816 and 1824, “nothing was left to New England but to conform herself to the will of others.” The region was heavily invested in manufacturing and he would not now do it injury.

Webster’s speaking ability came to the fore during the Nullification Crisis when he famously summed up his position in opposition to nullification of federal laws “Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!”

In 1836, Webster was one of four Whig Party candidates to run for the office of President, but he only managed to gain the support of Massachusetts. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts at gaining the presidency. In 1839, the Whig Party nominated William Henry Harrison for president. Webster was offered the vice presidency, but he declined.

However, Harrison appointed Webster as his Secretary of State, a position that he retained under John Tyler after Harrison’s death a month after his inauguration. In September 1841, an internal division amongst the Whigs over the question of the National Bank caused all the Whigs (except Webster who was in Europe at the time) to resign from Tyler’s cabinet.

In 1842, he was the architect of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which resolved the Caroline Affair, established the definitive Eastern border between the United States and Canada (Maine and New Brunswick), and signaled a definite and lasting peace between the United States and Britain. Webster succumbed to Whig pressure in May 1843 and finally left the cabinet. Webster later served again as Secretary of State in President Millard Fillmore’s administration from 1850 until 1852.

Webster returned to the Senate in 1845,  where he opposed both the Texas Annexation and the resulting Mexican-American War for fear of its upsetting the delicate balance of slave and non-slave states.

In the United States presidential election, 1848, he sought the Whig Party’s nomination for the President but was beaten by the military hero Zachary Taylor. Webster was once again offered the Vice-Presidency, but he declined saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.” Taylor died 16 months after the inauguration, the second time a President who offered Webster the chance to be Vice President died.

During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, Webster once again exhibited his eloquence on the floor of the Senate. Webster gave one of his most famous speeches, later called the Seventh of March speech, characterizing himself “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American…” In it he gave his support to the compromise, which included the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Webster returned to the State Department in July 1850 where he became embroiled in prosecutions of those who aided Shadrach Minkins in 1851 from Boston officials who intended to return Minkins to his owner. The juries convicted none of the accused. His popularity in New England fell to a low and he was passed over for the 1852 Whig nomination for the presidency.

A rump “Native American Party” put his name on the ballot without permission and he collected a few thousand votes, even though he died just before the election. Daniel Webster died on October 24, 1852 at his home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, after falling from his horse and suffering a crushing blow to the head, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage.

The great irony was that his son Fletcher went on to serve as a Union Army infantry colonel in the Civil War that Webster tried to prevent. Fletcher Webster commanded the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was killed in action on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

 

04/27/16

The Caning of Charles Sumner

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The caning of Charles SumnerOn May 22, 1856, at the height of a heated debate over the impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, an event took place in the Senate Chamber that is nearly unique in American history. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was assaulted at his Senate desk by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.

Tempers had become so inflamed over the slavery issue that Brooks felt compelled to attack Sumner for a speech that he had made on the floor of the Senate two days beforehand. The story of those events illustrate the widening divide between the North and the South.

To understand the events surrounding the near-fatal beating of Senator Sumner, one must understand the events of the time and the two protagonists.

The debate over the Kansas-Nebraska had begun when the original bill was introduced in the Senate on January 4, 1854. Over the course of the next two bills the contents of the bill had been modified by its sponsor Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. By May the bill passed both chambers in its final form and was signed by President Franklin Pierce.

The main issue with the bill was its “popular sovereignty” clause. In the case of this act, it said that the residents of territories should be able to decide by voting whether or not slavery would be allowed in the territory.

It ignited a rush of pro-and anti-slavery settlers into Kansas in an attempt to vote their position. The period following the movement of forces Charles Sumner“Bleeding Kansas”.

On May on May 19 and May 20, 1856, Sumner attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The long speech argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state, and went on to denounce the “Slave Power“, the political arm of the slave owners. Their goal, he alleged, was to spread slavery through the free states that had made it illegal.

In his speech, Sumner, a Free Soil Democrat, attacked authors of the Act, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

The main outside event leading up to the assault on Senator Sumner took place on May 21, 1856. A group of pro-slavery Border Ruffians Preston Brooksentered the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices and their printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.

On May 22nd, Representative Brooks entered the Senate chamber accompanied by fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence M. Keitt. Brooks was armed with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. His companion carried a pistol. Sumner was working at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber.

Dueling was still legal in the nation’s capital but Keitt had advised Brooks that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing Both of the men considered  that Sumner was no better than a drunkard, due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks had decided to beat him with a cane.

Approaching his desk, Brooks identified himself as Senator Andrew Butler’s nephew. “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began to beat him mercilessly with the cane, using the head to beat him about the head. Sumner attempted to hide under his desk but eventually he ripped the bolted desk from the floor.

Keitt quickly drew a pistol from his belt, jumped into the aisle and leveled it at the horror-struck Congressmen who were approaching to try to assist Sumner, loudly announcing “Let them be!”. He resigned in protest over his censure, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.

Sumner staggered into the aisle, blinded by his own blood. He soon lapsed into unconsciousness but Brooks continued his assault. Brooks Lawrence Keittcontinued to beat the motionless Sumner until his cane broke, at which point he left the chamber.

The episode revealed the polarization in America, as Sumner became a martyr in the North and Brooks a hero in the South. Northerners were outraged. The Cincinnati Gazette said, “The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the Bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder.”

In addition to the head trauma, Sumner suffered from nightmares, severe headaches, and what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder or “psychic wounds”. He spent months convalescing while his political enemies ridiculed him and accused him of cowardice for not resuming his duties.

The Massachusetts General Court reelected him in November 1856, believing that his vacant chair in the Senate chamber served as a powerful symbol of free speech and resistance to slavery. He eventually returned to the Senate in 1859. He continued to serve in the Senate until his death in 1874.

There was an attempt to oust Preston Brooks from the House of Representatives but it failed. He was fined $300 for the assault and resigned his seat on July 15, 1856. He was re-elected by his constituents but died the following January before the new Congressional term began.

Lawrence Keitt resigned in protest over his censure by the House, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month. He was involved in a later incident in the House when he started a massive brawl in House on February 5, 1858.

Keitt insulted Pennsylvania Representative Galusha Grow calling him a “black Republican puppy”. Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow’s throat, shouting that he would “choke him for that”.

A massive brawl involving some 50 Representatives ensued. It ended when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.

Keitt served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Provisional Confederate Congress, 1861–62, and a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, commanding the 20th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later Kershaw’s Brigade. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, Keitt died the next day near Richmond, Virginia.

04/26/16

John C. Calhoun: The Men who dominated National Life

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John C. CalhounBefore we move on to the the last several events that led up to the Civil War, it is important that we look at the men who dominated national life and the Congress in the antebellum period. Their political careers overlapped and they had a huge impact on the history of the United States.

Let’s start with John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Born in South Carolina in 1782, Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830 while still holding national office as Vice President, Calhoun’s views evolved and he became a proponent of of states’ rightslimited governmentnullification and free trade.

Calhoun served in a succession of political offices starting in 1811 when he was sworn into the House of Representatives. He was to remain in the House for six years. He then was appointed Secretary of War in 1817 by President James Monroe.

As Secretary of War Calhoun proposed an expansible army similar to that of France under Napoleon, whereby a basic cadre of 6,000 officers and men could be expanded into 11,000 without adding additional officers or companies. Congress wanted an army to defend the nation in the event of war against Britain or Spain over Florida. Once the crisis was settled diplomatically the need subsided and Calhoun’s plans were shelved.

In 1825 Calhoun was elected Vice President by the House of Representatives in a landslide. He was to serve four years with John Quincy Adams and four years with Andrew Jackson. He was one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.

Eventually, Calhoun split with Jackson over the policy of hard cash, which he felt favored Northern financial interests. Calhoun opposed an increase in the protective tariff. When his position was defeated he returned to his South Carolina plantation to write “South Carolina Exposition and Protest“, an essay rejecting the centralization philosophy.

This led to the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification,”the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits.” Jackson, who supported states’ rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it.

Calhoun and Jackson came to a breaking point over a previous recommendation when Calhoun was Secretary of War. In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.

Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe’s Secretary of War (1817–1823). Jackson had invaded Florida during the First Seminole War without explicit public authorization from Calhoun or Monroe. Calhoun’s and Jackson’s relationship deteriorated further. Calhoun defended his position and by February 1831 the break between the two men was irrevocable.

In 1832, states’ rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis, after South Carolina passed an ordinance that nullified federal tariffs. Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and even talked of hanging Calhoun. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill.

Cooler heads prevailed and Congress passed the Compromise Tariff of 1833, a proposal by Senator Henry Clay to change the tariff law in a manner which satisfied Calhoun, who by then was in the Senate.

Calhoun ran for the Senate in 1832 and was elected by the South Carolina legislature. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was implemented, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun would gain his most lasting fame and his most influence as a senator.

Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories; actively anti-Wilmot Proviso. He was a major advocate of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which required the co-operation of local law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.

In a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a “positive good.” He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism.

“I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good… I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse… I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.”

Calhoun cooperated with Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country’s bankers had joined the opposition Whig Party. The Democratic replacement was the “Independent Treasury” system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect.

Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism, which he saw as the common enemy of the Northern laborer, the Southern planter, and the small farmer everywhere. He therefore united these groups under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Van Buren’s successor was William Henry Harrison, a Whig, who died a mere month after taking office. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former DEmocrat, who appointed Calhoun as Secretary of State in 1844. Calhoun would serve in that position for less than a year but had a huge impact on American foreign policy.

He was able to resolve  the Oregon boundary dispute, claimed by both Britain and the U.S. Calhoun compromised by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, ending the war threat.

Tyler and Calhoun, who were both Southerners, were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas. Texas was slave country and the Southerners wished to bring Texas into the Union as a slave state. When the Senate could not muster a two-thirds vote to pass a treaty of annexation with Texas, Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the Houses of Congress, requiring only a simple majority. Texas joined the Union and war broke out with Mexico in 1846.

Meanwhile, Calhoun had resigned as Secretary of State in March 1845 and returned to the Senate in November of the same year. Calhoun by then believed that the country was threatened by a totally corrupt party system. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the antislavery vote, especially during presidential campaigns, and politicians in the slave states sacrificed Southern rights in an effort to placate the Northern wings of their parties.

He was the driving force behind the drafting and publication of the “Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents.” It listed the alleged Northern violations of the constitutional rights of the South, then warned southern voters to expect forced emancipation of slaves in the near future, followed by their complete subjugation by an unholy alliance of unprincipled Northerners and blacks, and a South forever reduced to “disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness.”

By 1850, Calhoun was gravely ill with tuberculosis. During the debate over the Compromise of 1850, which Calhoun rejected, he was so ill that one of his colleagues read his speech, calling upon the Constitution, which upheld the South’s right to hold slaves; warning that the day “the balance between the two sections” was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war.

John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850 in Washington. He was returned to Charleston and interred in the St. Philip’s Churchyard.

 

04/25/16

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

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Bleeding Kansas-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854The original intent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was to open up the vast new territories of the West for farming. By creating a governmental infrastructure the Congress hoped that it would make a transcontinental railroad feasible. These two goals were laudable but in the writing of the bill the idea of popular sovereignty was written in the act.

What was popular sovereignty? It was the concept that allowed the voters of the moment to decide if Kansas and Nebraska would enter the Union as free states or slave states. It was to set up the conditions for a border war between supporters of slavery and Free Soilers.

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois who wrote the bill hoped that the formula of “popular sovereignty” would ease national tensions over the issue of human bondage and that he would not have to take a side on the issue. Instead, it ignited a spark that eventually led to civil war.

Douglas was the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and, above all, a fervent believer in popular sovereignty.

Douglas was an early supporter of a transcontinental railroad, especially one that had its terminus in Chicago, Illinois. A bill to organize the Nebraska Territory passed the House and went to the Senate. It was taken up by the Senate’s Committee on Territories which was chaired by Douglas.

Missouri Sen. David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slaveholders were not banned from the new territory.  The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery north of the Missouri state line. Other Southern senators were not as flexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the senate voted to kill the motion by tabling it with every senator from states south of Missouri voting for the tabling.

During the senate adjournment a group of senators, including Atchison,  formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Aware of their opinions and power, Douglas knew that he needed to address their concerns in order to move forward with the bill.

By the time that the bill was reported out of committee it had changed dramatically. In the new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the 49th parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

But the bill still presented problems for the Southern senators. Without the explicit repeal of the Missouri Compromise, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, settlers who would most likely hold free-soil views.

Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon introduced an amendment that did just that, much to Douglas’ surprise. A similar amendment was offered in Map of the United States in 1854-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854the House to match the Senate’s version.

On January 23 a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory was created.

The reformulated bill stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate in both Houses of Congress. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Stephen Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known” led a tightly disciplined party. The Free Soilers were at a distinct disadvantage.

The debate would continue for four months. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, William Seward of New York and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the opposition. In the end the bill passed. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

The debate then moved to the House. The opponents of the bill used a delaying tactic. The legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled.

The debate raged through April and into May. In the end, it passed by a 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act would set of a border war between the pro-slavery supporters, dubbed border ruffians by opponents, and the anti-slavery “Jayhawkers“. Both groups sent settlers into Kansas in order to vote for their particular beliefs. Violence was inevitable.

04/22/16

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

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Slaves in antebellum America-The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850The most divisive law of the antebellum period was easily the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 just as the Dred Scott decision was the most divisive court ruling. The law was passed as part of the Compromise of 1850 along with five other specific laws that attempted to maintain the balance between slave states and free states.

The act was passed by the was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76 on September 18, 1850. It was immediately signed by President Millard Fillmore. It was a successor to the earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. That law  was written with the intention of enforcing Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves.

It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters. But officials in Northern states used a variety of means to circumvent the earlier law. They passed “personal liberty laws“. These laws mandated a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved and others forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of alleged fugitive slaves. In some cases, juries refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law.

The Missouri Supreme Court routinely held that voluntary transportation of slaves into free states, with the intent of residing there permanently or definitely, automatically made them free. The Fugitive Slave Law dealt with slaves who went into free states without their master’s consent. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), that states did not have to offer aid in the hunting or recapture of slaves, greatly weakening the law of 1793.

The Southern states saw the non-cooperation of Northern states as a means of gradually bleeding away their property rights. In some cases Southern slaveholders organized raids into Northern states in order to capture fugitive slaves.

In 1847 and 1849, planters from Bourbon and Boone Counties in northern Kentucky led raids into Cass County, Michigan to recapture runaway slaves. The raids failed of their objective but strengthened Southern demands for passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 gave the Southerners in Congress the opportunity to strengthen the earlier law. The new law made any Federal marshal or other official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave liable to a fine of $1,000 (about $28,000 in present-day value).

Law-enforcement officials everywhere now had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf.

In addition, the law made any person aiding a fugitive slave subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Meanwhile, officers who captured fugitive slaves were entitled to to a bonus or promotion for their work.

The opportunities for the abuse of the law were rampant. Being unable to testify in court many free blacks were captured and transported South to spend years in slavery even though they were free. The case of Solomon Northup, free-born black man from New York State is just one among many. His story was told in 12 Years a Slave, a book that he wrote after he was freed by a court in Louisiana.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court  declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional in 1854, as a result of a case involving fugitive slave Joshua Glover, and Sherman Booth, who led efforts that thwarted Glover’s recapture. Ultimately, in 1859 in Ableman v. Booth the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the state court.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

In essence the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made every person who aided or assisted a runaway slave into a criminal. It’s enforcement in the North brought the issue of slavery home to citizens there. Abolitionists were faced with the prospect of breaking the law or going against their personal beliefs. Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 was one response to the law.

Abolitionists continued to aid runaway slaves and after the signing of the law Canada became a destination of choice. There the former slaves would enjoy absolute freedom without a fear of being returned to their former state of slavery.

 

 

 

04/21/16

Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?

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Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?
                                    An 1885 photo of Harriet Tubman by H. Seymour Squyer. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

So now that it’s confirmed that Harriet Tubman will grace the front of the $20 bill, the next question is: Which Harriet Tubman? The antebellum abolitionist who supported John Brown and criticized Lincoln for his incrementalist approach to abolishing slavery, or the post-war figure of legend who was the subject of sentimental biographies?

Designs for the new bill haven’t been released, and it could be well into the next decade for the newly designed currency to begin circulating. But the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will have some interesting choices when it comes to representing Harriet Tubman. The iconography of Harriet Tubman imagery generally falls into two categories: The best-known, and perhaps best-loved, images depict her as a little old lady, after the war, primly dressed and often sporting a head wrap. But while Tubman may have looked grandmotherly, she also was a ferociously brave and determined woman, and was occasionally depicted as such.

Typical of the first sort of image is a photograph made around 1885 by H. Seymour Squyer, showing Tubman full length in a dark dress wearing what was probably a colorful cloth on her head. But when the National Portrait Gallery featured an image of Tubman in a 2013 exhibition devoted to African Americans and the Civil War, they used another reproduction of a Tubman image, showing her dressed not for a Victorian photography studio, but in her outdoors garb, holding a gun.

[The National Portrait Gallery looks at African Americans and the Civil War]

Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?

Taken from a book about Tubman, this was a shockingly confrontational image. Although Tubman served in the U.S. Army during the war, and even led an armed raid that freed hundreds of slaves, the inclusion of a gun in a 19th-century image of an African American woman was startling. It also reminded readers that the acts for which Tubman is most celebrated—missions into Southern states to rescue slaves from bondage—were illegal, though obviously not immoral. After the infamous 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, even her own rescued relatives ran the risk of being returned to slavery. Tubman wasn’t working within the system; she saw clearly that the system couldn’t be reformed or repaired, only broken and replaced.

After the war, Tubman turned her formidable energies to the care of her family and the championing of women’s suffrage. As she aged, she seemed to soften in appearance. She was plagued by ill health and pain from a childhood injury (at the hands of a slave owner) though she lived well into her 90s. Photographs made late in her life show her diminished, and tired, as one might expect. But they also have the effect of softening the broader memory of who she was, and how she accomplished her heroic legacy. Popular books about her also lapsed into anodyne hagiography.

She was a fighter, and impatient for the freedom of her people and the suffrage of her sex; she repeatedly put her life on the line for what she believed in. And one hopes that’s how she appears on the $20 bill.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic. Follow @PhilipKennicott

Editor’s note: This is purely a personal opinion but I prefer the earlier image. It personifies Harriet Tubman as the freedom fighter that she was. Remember, she was the woman called Moses among those who she led to freedom from their lives as slaves.

04/20/16

The Compromise of 1850

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Henry Clay in the Senate-The Compromise of 1850The period after the Mexican War was a contentious time with between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The United States had acquired vast territories as a result of its victory over Mexico. The Compromise of 1850 would organize all of these territories and hold off disunion for another decade.

The South saw it as an opportunity to tip the balance in favor of the slave states. The North would never agree to this train of events and it appeared that the country was headed for a breakup and the possibility of civil war.

During the deadlock of four years, the Second Party System broke up, Mormon pioneers settled Utah, the California Gold Rush settled northern California, and New Mexico under a federal military government turned back Texas’s attempt to assert control over territory Texas claimed as far west as the Rio Grande.

In an attempt to sort out the various territorial and policy issues Senator Henry Clay, a Kentucky Whig, proposed a number of compromises to resolve these issues. But rather than place everything in one bill Clay urged Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, to divide Clay’s bill into several smaller bills, and pass each separately. Clay who was very ill and would die two years later felt that he did not have the strength to push the bills through the Senate.

The Compromise of 1850 came to coalesce around a plan dividing Texas at its present-day boundaries, creating territorial governments with “popular sovereignty” (without the Wilmot Proviso) for New Mexico and Utah, admitting California as a free state, abolishing the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and enacting a new fugitive slave law.

Most Northern Whigs, led by William Henry Seward who delivered his famous “Higher Law” speech during the controversy, opposed the Compromise because it would not have applied the Wilmot Proviso to the western territories and because of the new fugitive slave law, which would have pressed ordinary citizens into duty on slave-hunting patrols. Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs supported the Compromise. Southern Whigs, many of whom were from the border states, supported it because of the stronger fugitive slave law.

The initial debates were quite acrimonious with compromise floor leader Henry S. Foote of Mississippi drawing a pistol on Senator Benton. Vice President Millard Fillmore and Senator Benton verbally sparred, with Fillmore charging that the Missourian was “out of order.”

In early June 9 representatives from 9 Southern states met at the Nashville Convention to consider what to do if the compromises were passed. Some talked about secession but the moderates won and they proposed a series of compromises, including extending the geographic dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.

The initial “omnibus” bill was defeated on July 31st with the majority of Clay’s Whig Party opposed to the measure. Clay left the Senate to recuperate from tuberculosis at Newport, Rhode Island and Douglas took over the shepherding of the bill. He immediately divided the measure into five separate bills.

President Zachary Taylor who had been neutral on the “omnibus” bill died in early July 1850 and Vice President Millard Fillmore succeeded him. Fillmore was in favor of the compromise and gave it his full support. The Northern Democrats held together and supported each of the bills and gained Whigs or Southern Democrats to pass each one.

The six bills were passed and signed by Fillmore between September 9th and September 20th.

  1. California was admitted as a free state. It passed the House 150-56. It passed the Senate 34-18.
  2. The slave trade was abolished (the sale of slaves, not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia.
  3. The Territory of Utah was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 97-85.
  4. The Territory of New Mexico was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 108-97. It passed the Senate 30-20.
  5. A harsher Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76.
  6. Texas gave up much of the western land which it claimed and received compensation of $10,000,000 to pay off its national debt.

The Compromise of 1850 Map

Many historians contend that the Compromise of 1850 postponed the Civil War for the next decade. What we do know is that over the decade a number of events took place that strengthened the North and pushed the country to war.

  • The divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 introduced by Stephen Douglas, which repealed the Missouri Compromise.
  • This led to open warfare on the Kansas-Missouri border.
  • The Republican Party was formed in 1854 as a coalition of anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs“, Know Nothings and Free Soil Democrats.
  • During the decade the Northwest grew more wealthy and more populous and became closer in ideology to the Northeast.
  • The Southern stages for the most part stagnated.
  • The Fugitive Slave Law polarized the North and the South .
  • The free economy of the northern states to continue to industrialize adding many more miles of railroad, steel production, modern factories, and population.

 

 

 

04/19/16

The Mexican War and the Wilmot Proviso

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David Wilmot-The Mexican War and the Wilmot Proviso The Wilmot Proviso was a failed attempt by the so-called Barnburner wing of the Democrat Party to ban slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War or in the future.  The term barnburner was derived from the idea of someone who would burn down his own barn to get rid of a rat infestation, in this case slavery. Led by David Wilmot, a Democrat congressman from Pennsylvania, they were opposed to the further spread of slavery.

The fight to stop the spread of slavery was caused by the Mexican War that lasted from April 25, 1846 until February 2, 1848. This period in American history was driven by the spirit of Manifest Destiny. It was a widely held belief that it was America’s destiny to spread all of the way to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1836 the Texans had won their independence and founded the Republic of Texas but pressure began to build almost immediately for Texas to become a state. The annexation of Texas was contentious in the U.S. Congress, where Whigs were largely opposed. Finally, in 1845 Texas agreed to the offer of annexation by the U.S. Congress and became the 28th state on December 29, 1845. Texas entered the Union as a slave state.

The Mexican War began as a boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico. Simultaneously, John C. Fremont and a group of armed men appeared in California. He raised the American flag at a fort on Gavilan Peak but left California in March 1846. However, he returned to California and assisted the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, where many American immigrants stated that they were playing “the Texas game” and declared California’s independence from Mexico.

Tensions between the two countries continued to heat up despite attempts by the American government to negotiate with their southern neighbor. Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor.

Talks broke down when a more nationalistic government came to power. President James K. Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande, entering the territory that Mexicans disputed. Mexico laid claim to all the lands as far north as the Nueces River—about 150 mi  north of the Rio Grande.

The U.S. claimed that the border was the Rio Grande, citing the 1836 Treaties of Velasco. Mexico rejected the treaties and refused to negotiate; it claimed all of Texas. Taylor ignored Mexican demands to withdraw to the Nueces. He constructed a makeshift fort (later known as Fort Brown/Fort Texas) on the banks of the Rio Grande opposite the city of Matamoros.

On April 25, 1846, a 2,000-strong Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a 70-man U.S. patrol under the command of Captain Seth Thornton, which had been sent into the contested territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. In the Thornton Affair, the Mexican cavalry routed the patrol, killing 16 American soldiers.

The war lasted slightly more than a year and a half with the complete defeat of the Mexican forces. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 ended the war. The treaty gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.-Mexican border of the Rio Grande, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming.

In return, Mexico received US $15,000,000 ($492,399,038 today) – less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities and the U.S. agreed to assume $3.25 million ($87,687,500 today) in debts that the Mexican government owed to U.S. citizens.

Enter the anti-slavery forces who attempted to halt the spread of slavery by passing the Wilmot Proviso as a rider on a $2,000,000 appropriations bill intended for the final negotiations to resolve the Mexican–American War. Their first attempt was in August 1846, just three months into the war. It passed the House but failed in the Senate, where the South had greater representation.

The amendment was brief and to the point:

Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.

It was reintroduced in February 1847 and again passed the House and failed in the Senate. In 1848, an attempt to make it part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also failed.

With the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso the issue of the spread of slavery moved from one of abstraction to one involving practical matters. t soon became clear to the South that this long postponed attack on slavery had finally occurred. Rather than simply discuss the politics of the issue, historian William Freehling noted, “Most Southerners raged primarily because David Wilmot’s holier-than-thou stance was so insulting.” 

Combined with other slavery related issues, the Wilmot Proviso led to the Compromise of 1850, which helped buy another shaky decade of peace. Radical secessionists were temporarily at bay as the Nashville Convention failed to endorse secession. Moderates rallied around the Compromise as the final solution to the sectional issues involving slavery and the territories.

04/18/16

The Rise of the Abolitionists

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Slave Kidnap Poster from Boston-The Rise of the AbolitionistsSlavery and abolition of the practice have gone hand and hand in the United States almost from the beginning of the “peculiar institution”. We know that slavery began in 1619 when a Dutch trading ship sold 20 slaves to the Colony of Virginia as indentured servants.

Click image to enlarge.

But we have often overlooked the beginnings of abolition in America, After earlier laws in Massachusetts (1641) and Connecticut (1650) limited slavery to some extent, a 1652 Rhode Island law clearly limited bond service to no more than 10 years or no later than a person attaining the age of 24.

Non-slaveholding farmers in Virginia think slave labor threatens their livelihoods. They persuade the General Assembly to discuss a prohibition of slavery or a ban on importing slaves. In response, the assembly raises the tariff on slaves to five pounds, which about equals the full price of an indenture, so as not to make importation of slaves as initially attractive or preferable to a mere indenture for a term of years.

In 1775 Quakers in Pennsylvania with the aid of other non-Quakers form the first abolition society, the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, in Philadelphia. It was reorganized in 1784 as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, (better known as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society) and was incorporated in 1789. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society still exists today, dedicated to the cause of racial justice.

Even though the Declaration of Independence declared that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” slavery remained legal in the American colonies.

In 1777 Vermont, then the Republic of Vermont, prohibited slavery in its constitution. The following year Virginia banned the importation of slaves. It is the first state to ban the slave trade, and all other states eventually followed. In 1780 Pennsylvania adopted a law calling for the gradual emancipation of slaves. Massachusetts banned slavery in its constitution.

In 1782, Virginia liberalizes its very strict law preventing manumission; under the new law, a master may emancipate slaves in his will or by deed. The following year New Hampshire passed a law saying that children of slaves would be born free. In 1784, Rhode Island and Connecticut pass laws providing for gradual emancipation of slaves.

In 1816, Henry ClayJames MonroeBushrod WashingtonRobert FinleySamuel John Mills Jr. and others organize the American Colonization Society to send freed slaves to Liberia. The Society funds the migration of about 10,000 free blacks to return to Africa. Abolition has entered a new phase with an emphasis to return the slaves to their African homelands. Groups calling for migration and outright abolition begin to diverge along the abolition path.

In 1831 Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator. It would be a watershed event and abolitionist across the United States will become more united in the goal of emancipation of slaves. From this time forward many abolitionists call for immediate emancipation.

In 1833 Abolitionist Lydia Maria Child of Massachusetts publishes An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called AfricansWendell Phillips and Charles Sumner are persuaded to become abolitionists.

In the same year the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often spoke at its meetings as well. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, “The society’s antislavery activities frequently met with violent public opposition, with mobs invading meetings, attacking speakers, and burning presses.”

The following year, Anti-Slavery “debates” are held at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lane had been founded by abolitionist evangelist and writer Theodore Dwight Weld with financial help from abolitionist merchants and philanthropists Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan. The anti-slavery speaking circuit is born and would flourish in the North right up to the onset of the war.

Committed abolitionists Angelina Grimké Weld and her sister Sarah Grimké were born in Charleston, South Carolina, but move to Philadelphia because of their anti-slavery philosophy and Quaker faith. In 1836, Angelina publishes An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, inviting them to overthrow slavery, which she declares is a horrible system of oppression and cruelty. Angelina would marry Theodore Dwight Weld in 1838.

Divisions begin to appear in churches across America. In 1844, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South breaks away from the Methodist Episcopal Church on the issue of slavery. At the same time black abolitionist, Charles Lenox Remond, and white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, declare they would rather see the union dissolved than keep the Constitution only through the retention of slavery. The following year Southern Baptist Convention breaks from the Northern Baptists but does not formally endorse slavery.

In the same year Frederick Douglass published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The book details his life as a slave. He soon joins William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery speaking circuit. Douglass’ natural speaking ability makes him one of the circuits most popular orators and he soon become well-known across the North.

04/15/16

Slave Revolts (Part 2)

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Am I not a man and a brotherSlave revolts were not a very common occurrence but they continued, on shore and on sea. From 1822 their were a number of revolts and conspiracies by slaves throughout the Southern United States. Slaveowners and state authorities responded by crushing almost all of them.

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a South Carolina freedman, supposedly plotted an uprising of slaves in that state. Vesey won $1,500 in a Charleston city lottery in 1799. He used the money to buy his freedom from his owner and began working as a carpenter.

Apparently, Vesey was inspired by the revolutionary spirit of slaves during the 1791 Haitian Revolution and also the closing of his African Methodist Episcopal Church. His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast.

The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to execute their enslavers and temporarily liberate the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation. Two slaves opposed to Vesey’s scheme leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.

In August 1831 a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner took place in Southampton County, Virginia. We have a description of Turner from a reward poster that was circulated after his uprising:

5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, weighs between 150 and 160 pounds, rather “bright” [light-colored] complexion, but not a mulatto, broad shoulders, larger flat nose, large eyes, broad flat feet, rather knockneed, walks brisk and active, hair on the top of the head very thin, no beard, except on the upper lip and the top of the chin, a scar on one of his temples, also one on the back of his neck, a large knot on one of the bones of his right arm, near the wrist, produced by a blow. 

Turner was highly intelligent and how to read and write at an early age. He grew up deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible. He frequently had visions, which he interpreted as messages from God. These visions greatly influenced his life. Turner often conducted Baptist services and preached the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him “The Prophet.”

On August 13, 1831, an atmospheric disturbance made the Sun appear bluish-green. Turner took this as the final signal, and began the rebellion a week later on August 21. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing all the white people they encountered. Turner started with a small number of slaves but eventually 70 enslaved and free blacks joined in the revolt.

Turner and his followers used knives, axes, hatchets and other edged weapons rather than firearms since the sound of gunfire would alert the countryside. Traveling from one house to another, they killed almost all of the white people that they encountered.

The slaves killed approximately sixty white men, women and children before Turner and his accomplices were defeated. A white militia with twice the manpower of the rebels and reinforced by three companies of artillery eventually defeated the insurrection.

Within a day of the suppression of the rebellion, the local militia and three companies of artillery were joined by detachments of men from the USS Natchez and USS Warren, which were anchored in Norfolk, and militias from counties in Virginia and North Carolina surrounding Southampton. The state executed 56 blacks. Militias killed at least 100 blacks, and probably many more. Another estimate is that up to 200 blacks were killed. The number of black victims overall far exceeded the number of white victims.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion spread fear throughout the South. The fear and alarm led to whites’ attacking blacks across the South with flimsy cause. The editor of the Richmond Whig, writing “with pain,” described the scene as “the slaughter of many blacks without trial and under circumstances of great barbarity.” 

Turner eluded capture over two months. On October 30, a White farmer discovered him in a hole covered with fence rails, and Turner was arrested. A trial was quickly arranged. On November 5, 1831, Nat Turner was tried for “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection”, convicted, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia. Turner’s corpse was flayedbeheaded and quartered.

In 1839 the slaves on the Spanish schooner La Amistad revolted, killed several members of the crew and took over the ship. They demanded to be returned to Africa but were deceived by the remaining crew members who steered the ship to the coast of the United States. The vessel was discovered off the coast of Long Island and was seized by the United States revenue cutter USS Washington.

This began a complex legal case that involved all of the participants including the American captain of the Washington, the owners of the slaves, the Spanish government, the British government and the Africans on board. The case eventually worked its way through the federal court system and arrived at the Supreme Court in February 1841.

The Court ruled that the Africans were in fact free and that the ship itself was lawful salvage. The Africans were taken in by abolitionists. The Amistad Committee instructed the Africans in English and Christianity, and raised funds to pay for their return home. Along with several missionaries, in 1842 the surviving 36 Africans sailed to Sierra Leone.

In 1841 the brig Creole was was transporting 135 slaves from Richmond to New Orleans for sale in the slave market there. While the United States had prohibited the international slave trade effective in 1808, it permitted the domestic slave trade among those states that authorized slavery. Many slave traders transported captives by the coastwise slave trade along the East Coast.

On November 7, 1841, Madison Washington and eighteen other male slaves rebelled. They overwhelmed the crew and killed John R. Hewell, one of the slave traders, with a knife. The crew and passengers had only one gun among them, which they never used. They ordered the crew to take them to Nassau in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas was a British colony and slavery had been outlawed by Britain. After a series of court rulings 128 slaves gained freedom. It has been termed the “most successful slave revolt in US history”.

The 1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation was the largest escape of a group of slaves to occur in the Cherokee Nation. The slave revolt took place on November 15, 1842, when a group of African-American slaves owned by the Cherokee escaped and tried to reach Mexico, where slavery had been abolished. They were soon captured, after killing two pursuers. Five slaves were later executed for these deaths.

The event inspired subsequent slave rebellions to take place in the Indian Territory and throughout North America. Although the 1842 slave revolt participants were captured before reaching the Mexican border, the aftermath of this revolt led Cherokee Nation slave holders to create stricter slave codes, expel Freedmen from the territory, and found a ‘rescue’ (slave-catching) company to prevent further loss of slaves.

Perhaps, the most famous attempt at freeing slaves was led by John Brown who along with 19 followers attempted to capture The U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He intended to arm arms with the rifles from the arsenal. You can read about it here.