Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 3

In my last post concerning a Bill To amend an act, entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters", introduced on December 29, 1817 by a three-man committee headed by James Pindall, I described the Home District (my term) certificate process authorized by the proposed legislation and some of the incentives contained in the bill that encouraged masters to use the process.

There were other incentives as well. In particular, a master who obtained a Home District certificate acquired immunity from claims by or on behalf of the seized fugitive, both in the state in which the fugitive was seized and in any state through which the returning master passed on his way back home. Section 4 provided:
[N]o person claiming such fugitive from labor, nor the agent of any such person who shall have received a [Home District] certificate pursuant to the first section of this act, shall be in anywise imprisoned, arrested, or detained, in person, or distrained or attached by his goods, chattles, or effects, by reason of any action, suit, or process, to be had, moved, or prosecuted by or in behalf of the fugitive named or mentioned in the said certificate, in the state or territory where the said fugitive shall be apprehended, or in any other state or territory through which he shall or may necessarily pass, in returning to the state or territory from whence the said fugitive shall have absconded.

There was only one exception: "homicide or mayhem."
[N]or shall such claimant or his agent, be imprisoned, arrested, or detained by any warrant or prosecution brought or commenced by reason or pretence of assaulting, beating, imprisoning, or otherwise maltreating such fugitive, except the same be had or moved on a charge of homicide or mayhem.

About the illustration:
An impassioned condemnation of the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in September 1850, which increased federal and free-state responsibility for the recovery of fugitive slaves. The law provided for the appointment of federal commissioners empowered to issue warrants for the arrest of alleged fugitive slaves and to enlist the aid of posses and even civilian bystanders in their apprehension. The print shows a group of four black men--possibly freedmen--ambushed by a posse of six armed whites in a cornfield. One of the white men fires on them, while two of his companions reload their muskets. Two of the blacks have evidently been hit; one has fallen to the ground while the second staggers, clutching the back of his bleeding head. The two others react with horror. Below the picture are two texts, one from Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt not deliver unto the master his servant which has escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee. Even among you in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best. Thou shalt not oppress him." The second text is from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold 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." The print is unusually well drawn and composed for a political print of the period. The handling of both the lithographic technique and the figures betray particular skill.

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