Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 9

The Senate received the House bill to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 on Monday February 2, 1818. The Senate accepted a few minor amendments. The only amendment of note was what we would now call a “sunset provision” stipulating that the new act would automatically expire after four years. On Thursday March 12, 1818, the bill, as amended, passed the Senate by a vote of 17 to 13.

Proponents now had victory within their grasp. Both the House and the Senate had passed versions of the bill by comfortable margins. Now all that remained was to reconcile the two. If the House held firm, it might even convince the Senate to give way on the sunset provision.

It did not come to pass. On Monday March 16, 1818, the "House took up the amendments proposed by the Senate to the bill." The matter was tabled without recorded vote.

On Friday April 10, 1818, Rep. James Pindall of Virginia, the bill's chief sponsor in the House, moved “that the House do now proceed to consider the amendments proposed by the the Senate, to the bill.” This time, the vote was recorded. The motion “was determined in the negative” - i.e., it failed – by a vote 63 to 73. The bill was not taken up again that session.

The reasons for the bill's defeat remain unclear. There was no recorded debate in the House 0n either March 16 or April 10, and none of the secondary sources I have located explains the result. Thomas D. Morris, for example, states merely that “The House, however, on March 16, 1818 , ordered [the bill] tabled. It was not taken up during the remainder of this session of Congress. Morris does not mention or analyze the April 10 vote.

It would be tempting to assume that a bloc of northerners in the House had second thoughts about the bill after having voted in favor of it on Friday January 30, 1818. However, an examination of the two recorded votes on January 30 and April 10 does not appear to confirm this hypothesis. Indeed, a comparison of the votes does not reveal any distinctly discernible pattern, at least as far as I can tell.

In the vote on January 30, 1818, the House passed the bill by a vote of 84 to 69 (total 153). The vote on April 10, 1818 against the bill was 63 to 73 (136 total). The total number of votes decreased by 17 (suggesting a number of legislators were absent or intentionally chose to sit the vote out), but more importantly the relative totals changed dramatically. The number of votes against the bill remained fairly steady (73 vs. 69), but the number of votes in favor of the bill declined dramatically (from 84 to 63, a loss of 21 votes).

Who, I wondered, were the Representatives who deserted the bill, and where did they come from? To answer that question, I went through the two House votes and compiled a list of those Representatives who voted in favor of the bill on January 30, but not on April 10. Where the Representative affirmatively voted against the bill the second time, I have added a “no.” Where he did not vote at all the second time, there is a blank. I then divided the voters into northern and southern contingents to see whether there was a regional pattern.

Voted For the Bill the First Time, But Not the Second

North (12/10)

John Holmes (MA) – No
John Wilson (MA) – No
John R. Drake (NY) - No
Josiah Hasbrouck (NY) - No
John Herkimer (NY) - No
Thomas H. Hubbard (NY) - No
David A. Ogden (NY)
John Palmer (NY) - No
Henry R. Storrs (NY)
Caleb Tompkins (NY) – No
John W. Campbell (OH) - No
Thomas Patterson (PA) – No

South (19/1)

Willard Hall (DE) - No
Louis McLane (DE)
Thomas W. Cobb (GA)
Joel Crawford (GA)
Richard C. Anderson, Jr. (KY)
Anthony New (KY)
Tunstal Quarles (KY)
George Robertson (KY)
Thomas Bayley (MD)
Philip Stuart (MD)
Joseph H. Bryan (NC)
Weldon N. Edwards (NC)
Joseph Bellinger (SC)
James Ervin (SC)
Wilson Nesbitt (SC)
George W. L. Marr (TN)
William A. Burwell (VA)
William J. Lewis (VA)
Thomas Newton, Jr. (VA)

As you will see, there were more southern deserters of the bill than northern. Twelve northerners and nineteen southerners who voted for the bill the first time did not do so after the bill returned from the Senate.

On the other hand, far more northerners than southerners switched their votes. Of the 12 northerners, 10 affirmatively voted against the bill the second time. Only two did not vote on April 10. Of the nineteen southerners, in contrast, only one (Willard Hall of Delaware) affirmatively changed his vote. The other eighteen did not vote one way or the other the second time around.

For the heck of it, I also assembled a list of Representatives who voted in favor of the bill the second time, but not the first. Where the legislator affirmatively voted against the bill the first time, I placed a “no”. There is no annotation if he did not vote one way or the other the first time:

Voted for the Bill the Second Time, But Not the First

North (3/2)

John F. Parrott (NH) – No
John Linn (NJ)
Alexander Ogle (PA) - No

South (7/1)

Thomas Culbreth (MD) - No
Stephen D. Miller (SC)
Lemuel Sawyer (SC)
Eldred Simpkins (SC)
William G. Blount (TN)
Thomas M. Nelson (VA)
Alexander Smyth (VA)

I'm not sure what I was expecting to find, but again I see no clear pattern. More southerners came forward to vote for the bill than northerners, but the sample seems to be too small to demonstrate a trend, and the southerners who did so are substantially fewer than the 19 southern representatives who apparently abandoned the bill in April.

In an earlier post, I suggested this attempt to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 would be a great subject for a paper or article. Get to it - and solve the mystery as to why the bill failed1

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