Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Hunker Whig?

In the past I have discussed the economic disagreements, beginning in about 1842, between radical and more conservative elements in the New York Democratic Party that, when combined with the slavery issue, exploded in the Barnburner-Hunker schism in 1847-1848 (for example here). But whatever the details of the origins of the factions and the names given them, I have only seen the term “Hunker” used to describe a faction of the New York Democracy.

Until now. In his gripping – and highly recommended – Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial, Steven Lubet describes the hearing held in Boston in May 1854 to determine the fugitive slave status of Anthony Burns. After a witness for Burns's master identified Burns, adding that he had seen him in Richmond, VA as recently as March 20, 1854, the defense presented witnesses who testified that the Anthony Burns on trial had been in Boston since about the beginning of March.

One of those witnesses, one James Whittemore, recalled seeing Burns as part of a window-cleaning crew on March 8 or 9. To bolster his credibility, the defense team asked about his political affiliation. Over objection, Whittemore testified that he was a “Hunker Whig” - that is, he was not a Free Soiler or abolitionist. The Hunkers and Barnburners were gone, but the term “Hunker” clearly survived as a generic descriptor.

About the illustration:
A portrait of the fugitive slave Anthony Burns, whose arrest and trial under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 touched off riots and protests by abolitionists and citizens of Boston in the spring of 1854. A bust portrait of the twenty-four-year-old Burns, "Drawn by Barry from a daguereotype [sic] by Whipple and Black," is surrounded by scenes from his life. These include (clockwise from lower left): the sale of the youthful Burns at auction, a whipping post with bales of cotton, his arrest in Boston on May 24, 1854, his escape from Richmond on shipboard, his departure from Boston escorted by federal marshals and troops, Burns's "address" (to the court?), and finally Burns in prison. Copyrighting works such as prints and pamphlets under the name of the subject (here Anthony Burns) was a common abolitionist practice. This was no doubt the case in this instance, since by 1855 Burns had in fact been returned to his owner in Virginia.

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