Saturday, January 24, 2009

Slave Catching

Her name was Lucy, and she was a slave from Wheeling, Virginia [now West Virginia] and on January 23rd 1861 when she ran to Cleveland, Ohio she became the last slave to be returned under the Fugitive Slave Law.

Senator James Murray Mason of Virginia drafted the second Fugitive Slave Law under pressure from the south and as part of the Compromise of 1850. There were to be special commissioners with complete jurisdiction, there would be no trail by jury and the fugitives were not allowed to speak for themselves. There were penalties for marshals who refused to enforce the law, as well as individuals who aided blacks with their escape. If a slave was returned to their master, the person bringing that slave back would receive a payment.

The Law led to abuses and caused the number of abolitionist to rise. Many states enacted Personal Liberty Laws which extended Habeas Corpus, the privilege of jury trial and severely punished false testimony. The state of Wisconsin's Supreme Court went so far in 1859 as to declare the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional. The beginning of the Civil War changed things. In May 1861 Major General Benjamin Butler declared that slaves were contraband of war. It wasn't until June 28th 1864 and the Act was repealed.

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