November 9, 1851: Kidnapping of Calvin Fairbank

 

Some abolitionists were criticized for engaging in no-risk criticism from a long distance of slavery.  Such a charge could never have been lodged against abolitionist Calvin Fairbank.  Born in 1816 in New York state, he was converted to the cause of abolitionism in hearing two former slaves testify at a Methodist meeting.  He was licensed by the Methodist Episcopalian Church in 1840 to preach and in 1842 he was ordained by that denomination.  Between 1837 and 1851 he aided some 47 slaves in escaping to freedom.  In 1844 he was arrested in Kentucky for aiding escaping slaves and served time in prison until 1849.  After his release, from southern Indiana, he continued to aid slaves escaping from Kentucky.

On November 9, 1851, with the connivance of the local Indiana sheriff and the Indiana governor, he was kidnapped by Kentucky marshals.  Sentenced in 1852 to fifteen years, he remained in prison until 1864 when he was pardoned by the Union governor of Kentucky.  (He was lucky.  Amazingly, the last man in Kentucky prisons for aiding escaping slaves was not released until 1870, five years after the conclusion of the Civil War.)  His treatment during his two imprisonments had been brutal, and he estimated that over the years he had received 35,000 lashes from his jailers.  In this frequently unjust world, those who suffer for a good cause often do not receive an earthly reward.  Fairbank’s health broken by his imprisonment, he died in poverty in 1898.

Published in: on November 9, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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August 27, 1787: George Mason: The Judgment of Heaven

The more I study the Founding Fathers, the greater my respect for their wisdom.  Such an example was on full display at the Constitutional Convention on August 27, 1787, when George Mason of Virginia got up to speak.  Although a slave owner himself, Mason had long recognized what a pernicious evil it was:

This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British Merchants. The British Govt. constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing States alone but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the late war. had slaves been treated as they might have been by the Enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves, as it did by the Tories. He mentioned the dangerous insurrections of the slaves in Greece and Sicily; and the instructions given by Cromwell to the Commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the servants & slaves, in case other means of obtaining its submission should fail. Maryland & Virginia he said had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if South Carolina & Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands, and will fill that Country with slaves if they can be got through South Carolina & Georgia. Slavery discourages arts & manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the immigration of Whites, who really enrich & strengthen a Country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgement of heaven upon a country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities. He lamented that some of our Eastern brethren had from a lust of gain embarked in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in possession of the Right to import, this was the case with many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it essential in every point of view that the Genl. Govt. should have power to prevent the increase of slavery. (more…)

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August 20, 1862: The Prayer of Twenty Millions

Half sage and half quack, Horace Greeley, who in 1841 founded the New York Tribune, was a power to be reckoned with in the United States one hundred and fifty years ago.  On August 20, 1862 he published in his paper an open letter, entitled The Prayer of Twenty Millions,  to President Lincoln demanding the abolition of slavery within the Union.

To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States

DEAR SIR: I do not intrude to tell you–for you must know already–that a great proportion of those who triumphed in you election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels. I write only to set succinctly and unmistakably before you what we require, what we think we have a right to expect, and of what we complain.

I. We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. Most emphatically do we demand that such laws as have been recently enacted, which therefore may fairly be presumed to embody the present will and to be dictated by the present needs of the Republic, and which, after due consideration have received your personal sanction, shall by you be carried into full effect, and that you publicly and decisively instruct your subordinates that such laws exist, that they are binding on all functionaries and citizens, and that they are to be obeyed to the letter.

II. We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight Slavery with Liberty. They prescribe that men loyal to the Union, and willing to shed their blood in her behalf, shall no longer be held, with the Nations consent, in bondage to persistent, malignant traitors, who for twenty years have been plotting and for sixteen months have been fighting to divide and destroy our country. Why these traitors should be treated with tenderness by you, to the prejudice of the dearest rights of loyal men, We cannot conceive.

III. We think you are unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States. Knowing well that the heartily, unconditionally loyal portion of the White citizens of those States do not expect nor desire chat Slavery shall be upheld to the prejudice of the Union–(for the truth of which we appeal not only to every Republican residing in those States, but to such eminent loyalists as H. Winter Davis, Parson Brownlow, the Union Central Committee of Baltimore, and to The Nashville Union)–we ask you to consider that Slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and sustaining base of treason: the most slaveholding sections of Maryland and Delaware being this day, though under the Union flag, in full sympathy with the Rebellion, while the Free-Labor portions of Tennessee and of Texas, though writhing under the bloody heel of Treason, are unconquerably loyal to the Union. So emphatically is this the case, that a most intelligent Union banker of Baltimore recently avowed his confident belief that a majority of the present Legislature of Maryland, though elected as and still professing to be Unionists, are at heart desirous of the triumph of the Jeff. Davis conspiracy; and when asked how they could be won back to loyalty, replied “only by the complete Abolition of Slavery.” It seems to us the most obvious truth, that whatever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason, and drives home the wedge intended to divide the Union. Had you from the first refused to recognize in those States, as here, any other than unconditional loyalty–that which stands for the Union, whatever may become of Slavery, those States would have been, and would be, far more helpful and less troublesome to the defenders of the Union than they have been, or now are. (more…)

Lincoln and the Logic of Slavery

One of the many interesting aspects of Abraham Lincoln is how often he wrote down notes that he had no intention of using in public but that he prepared to aid in clarifying his own thinking.  One such note on the logic of slavery was written around April 1, 1854: (more…)

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Was Lincoln a Reluctant Abolitionist?

 

Lincoln was first and foremost a politician, and the sincerity of politicians is always subject to question, but it is impossible after examining his speeches and private letters not to be convinced of his deep and abiding hatred of slavery.

His attitude towards slavery was well set forth in the following letter to A.G. Hodges on April 4, 1864: (more…)

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January 18, 1773: Patrick Henry and Slavery

 

Yesterday in a post which may be read here, I stated that Patrick Henry was Liberty’s Voice, and so he was.  It is therefore ironic that a man who could speak so eloquently of liberty was also an owner of slaves.  However, like most of the Founding Fathers who held slaves, he did not deceive himself about the essential injustice of slavery, as we see in a letter he wrote in 1773 to a Quaker:

Patrick Henry to Robert Pleasants, January 18, 1773

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of Anthony Benezet’s book against the slave trade. I thank you for it. It is not a little surprising that Christianity, whose chief excellence consists in softening the human heart, in cherishing and improving its finer feelings, should encourage a practice so totally repugnant to the first Impression of right and wrong. What adds to the wonder is that this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages, times that seem to have pretensions to boast of high Improvements in the arts, sciences, and refined morality, have brought into general use, and guarded by many laws, a species of violence and tyranny, which our more rude and barbarous, but more honest ancestors detested. Is it not amazing, that at a time, when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country above all others fond of liberty, that in such an age, and such a country we find men, professing a religion the most humane, mild, meek, gentle and generous; adopting a principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to liberty.

Every thinking honest man rejects it in speculation, how few in practice from conscie (more…)

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Amistad Closing Argument

 

The closing argument in the Amistad case by John Quincy Adams as represented in the movie Amistad.  This is a greatly condensed version of course, as Adams spoke for eight and a half hours, not unusual for legal proceedings of that day.

The text of Adams’ argument may be read here.  The case involved the successful mutiny of slaves on board the Spanish ship Amistad.  The mutiny occurred on July 1, 1839.  The slaves killed the members of the crew except for two crewmen who were promised their lives if they would return the Africans to their home in Africa.  Instead, the crewmen steered the unsuspecting slaves to America, where they were taken into custody half a mile off eastern Long Island on August 24, 1839.

The case quickly became a cause celebre, with abolitionists filing a petition  in federal court in Connecticut to have the slaves freed and returned to Africa.  Pro-slavery forces in response rallied around the Spanish government which filed a petition for return of the slaves.  The abolitionists argued that Spain had signed a treaty with Great Britain in 1817 to abolish the Atlantic slave trade and that therefore the Africans could not be slaves, but were rather victims of kidnapping.  In January 1840, the District Court agreed. President Martin Van Buren, who did not want to anger slave holding sentiment in the Democrat party, ordered the US Attorney for Connecticut to appeal.  The District Court’s judgment was affirmed in April 1840. (more…)

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“The People of Ohio Don’t Send Cowards Here!”

Few opponents of slavery prior to the Civil War in Congress were more outspoken or more courageous than Joshua Giddings.  Born on October 6, 1795. Giddings moved with his family to Ashtabula County, Ohio in 1806, part of the Western Reserve in Northeastern Ohio.  Living in a sparsely settled pioneer region, Giddings had little formal education, but spent a great deal of time as he grew reading and studying.  In 1821 he was admitted to the Ohio bar.  From 1838-1859 he served in the House of Representatives.

He quickly became known as a fierce opponent of slavery, taking every opportunity to attack it.  He came to national notice in 1842 when he defended in Congress the slaves who had mutinied aboard the brig Creole.  Sailing to Nassau, the slaves were freed by the British.  The American government demanded the return of the slaves on the grounds that they were property.  The British refused to return the slaves.  Giddings proposed resolutions in Congress defending the right of the slaves to rebel and regain their God-given right to liberty.  This aroused a furor among pro-slavery members of Congress and Giddings was censured by the House. Nothing daunted, he resigned from the House, and was re-elected by his constituents with a large majority.

Unlike most abolitionists, Giddings had no problem calling for violence to be used to free the slaves.  He constantly called for slave insurrections, and stated that the people of the North had a moral duty to assist such insurrections.

Naturally this made him a marked man.  In the House in 1846 he was threatened by a representative from Georgia with a pistol and a sword cane.  Giddings yelled out to him, Come on! The People of Ohio don’t send cowards here! (more…)

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William Pitman and Justice

 

 

It didn’t happen often in the antebellum South, but occasionally a white man was sentenced to death for murdering a slave.  The first man sentenced to death for murdering his own slave in colonial America was William Pitman.  Pitman had beaten to death a slave boy he owned, whose name, alas, is lost to history as far as I am able to determine.  The Virginia Gazette of Fredericksburg, Virginia reported on April 21, 1775 that, a jury finding him guilty, the General Court sentenced Pitman to death.  The paper editorialized that Pitman had incurred the just penalty of the law and that it hoped this would serve as a lesson to other masters to treat their slaves with moderation. (more…)

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March 13, 1862: Congress Approves Article of War Forbidding the Return of Slaves

 

One hundred and fifty-eight years ago today, the war for the Union began broadening to a war against slavery with the passage by Congress of a new Article of War:

An Act to make an additional Article of War.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That hereafter the following shall be promulgated as an additional article of war for the government of the army of the United States, and shall be obeyed and observed as such:

Article —. All officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor, who may have escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor is claimed to be due, and any officer who shall be found guilty by a court-martial of violating this article shall be dismissed from the service.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That this act shall take effect from and after its passage. (more…)

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