Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 5

Before turning back to the legislative history of 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 see what became of it, one more feature of the Bill itself deserves mention.

As I have described, the Home District certification process was central to the Bill. The drafters apparently expected that some northerners would complain bitterly that the Bill forced them to turn over fugitives based on certificates issued by slave state judges.

Presumably for this reason, the drafters felt the need to include a provision that would allow them to reassure northerners of the absolute integrity of the certificate-issuing process. They did so by fashioning a draconian penalty for fraudulently procuring or forging Home District certificates: death. Section 7 provided:
[I]f any person shall falsely make, alter, forge or counterfeit, or cause or procure to be falsely made, altered, forged or counterfeited, or willing aid or assist in falsely making, altering, forging or counterfeiting any certificate under or by colour of the first section of this act, or procure any other person to be arrested or imprisoned by force, on pretence of any such forged or counterfeited certificate, knowing the same to be forged or counterfeited; he or she, on conviction thereof shall suffer death.

About the illustration:
A crudely drawn satire bitterly attacking Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Pierce and appealing to the "Freemen of America." The print, possibly executed by a free black, criticizes the Democrats' platform, as established by the Baltimore Convention, which in the interest of preserving the Union endorsed the Compromise of 1850. More specifically the artist condemns Pierce's pledge to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, included in the compromise as a submission to southern slaveholding interests. In the center Pierce prostrates himself before a "Slave holder & Peace Maker," a bearded man in wide-brimmed hat and striped trousers holding a cat-o-nine-tails and manacles. The upper half of Pierce is over the Mason Dixon line, his face in the dirt on the "Baltimore Platform." The slaveholder says: "Save the Union, / And with the "meanest" Yankee grease / Smear the hinges of your knees / And in "silence" pray for peace." Pierce, dubbed "one of the Southern "dirt" eaters "Saving" the Union," replies, "I accept this cheerfully." The Democratic platform is labeled "Southern pine" and is inscribed with reference to the compromise, "Fugitive Slave Law and nigger catching, and resist agitation on the Slavery question &c." On it lie a skull and crossbones, manacles, and a serpent. At far left is "the Devil come up to attend his revival," who commends, "Well done my faithful servants!" On the right is the infamous Hungarian general Julius von Haynau, who carries a whip and wears a "Barclay's Brewery" pitcher on his head. (Haynau was assaulted by Barclay employees while in England.) The Hungarian extends his hand toward the slaveholder, saying, "I feel quite at home in this company give me your hand my good fellow." Further to the right are Lewis Cass and Stephen A. Douglas, disappointed aspirants for the 1852 Democratic nomination. Cass says, "We are down Douglass, "Pierce" has bid lower than either of us." Douglas: "There is nothing impossible for a New Hampshire "Hunker" [i.e., conservative] Democrat to do in that line." On the ground nearby are the words, "the "slave&1ocratic miscalled the Democratic party, how they obey the "crack" of the slaveholder's whip!"

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