Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 4

Although I have catalogued a number of incentives built in to the December 1817 Bill To amend an act, entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters" to encourage masters to obtain Home District certificates, I have saved the best for last: what I term the "executive authority option".

Section 6 of the Bill proposed an entirely new executive-to-executive system available for use by masters who procured Home District certificates. In brief, a master who had obtained a Home District certificate could ask the executive of his state (say, the Governor of Maryland) to send a demand to his Fugitive District counterpart (say, the Governor of Pennsylvania) that the latter turn over the fugitive named in the certificate. In that event, the latter was obligated to locate and arrest the fugitive, transport him to that state's border, and there deliver the fugitive to the master or the master's agent:
[W]henever the executive authority of any state in this union, or of either of the territories thereof, shall for or in behalf of any citizen or inhabitant of such state or territory, demand any fugitive slave of the executive authority of any state or territory, to which such slave shall have fled, and shall moreover produce a [Home District] certificate issued pursuant to the first section of this act, it shall be the duty of the executive authority of the state or territory to which such fugitive shall have fled, to cause him or her to be arrested and secured, and notice of the arrest to be given to the executive authority making such demand, or to the agent of such authority appointed to receive the fugitive, and to cause such fugitive to be delivered to the said agent, on the confine or boundary of the state or territory in which said arrest shall be, and in the most usual and direct route to the place from whence the said fugitive shall have escaped.

The agent was required to pay "the reasonable expense of such arrest, detention and delivery of such fugitive," but the advantages to the slaveholder were obviously enormous. Rather than hiring a slave-catcher to travel into Pennsylvania, he could have the State of Pennsylvania do the work and deliver the fugitive to him at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

About the illustration:
The opposition of Northern abolitionists, churchmen, and political figures to enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 is criticized in this rare pro-Southern cartoon. In two panels artist Edward Williams Clay illustrates the abolitionist's invocation of a "higher law" against the claim of a slave owner, and the application of the same principle against the Northerner in a case of stolen textiles. In the left panel a slaveholder "Mr. Palmetto" and a federal marshal confront an abolitionist "Mr. Pumpkindoodle" and a garishly dressed, runaway slave "Pompey" in a warehouse or shop interior. On the counter is a copy of the newspaper the "Emancipator." Palmetto: ". . . I've come here to take that fugitive slave who belongs to me, according to the provisions of the U. S. law! Officer do your duty!" Pumpkindoodle (handing a pistol to the slave): "What! seize my African brother! never! I dont recognize any U.S. law! I have a higher law, a law of my own. here Pompey take this pistol and resist to the death! if he attempts to take you!" Pompey (trembling): "Ye yes sa! I'll try, cause brudders [antislavery senator from New York William H.] Seward and [abolitionist William Lloyd] Garrison says its all right; and so does Parson Squash! But I'm mighty feared." Federal marshal: "Whew! I think I'd better make myself scarce!" In the panel on the right, the same abolitionist approaches the seated slaveholder in the latter's shop. A sturdy slave "Cesar" and a grinning attendant stand by. On the counter are several bolts of fabric, labeled "Bay State Shawls," "Cotton Shirting," "Domestic Prints," "Amoskeag Ticks," "Lowels Negro Cloth" and "Hamilton Long Cloth." A copy of the "Charleston Mercury" lies open on Palmetto's lap. Pumpkindoodle: "Look here Mr. Palmetto them 'ere goods is mine! They've been stole from me, and if you dont give 'em up, I'll take the law of the land on you!" Palmetto: ". . . They are fugitives from you, are they? As to the law of the land, I have a higher law of my own, and possession is nine points in the law. I cant cotton to you. Kick out the abolitionist Cesar." Cesar: "Of course Massa. De dam Bobolitionist is the wus enemy we poor niggers have got."

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