Present Record of Fugitive Slave Law

With the sad case of Margaret Garner we close, for the present, the record of the Fugitive Slave Law, as its history has been daily writing itself in our country’s annals. Enactment of hell! which has marked every step of its progress over the land by suffering and by crimes,—crimes of the bloodiest dye, groanings which cannot fully be uttered; which is tracked by the dripping blood of its victims, by their terrors and by their despair; against which, and against that Wicked Nation which enacted it, and which suffers it still to stand as their Law, the cries of the down-trodden poor go up continually into the ears of God,—cries of bitterest anguish, mingled with fiercest execrations—thousands of Rachels weeping for their children, and will not be comforted, because they are not.

Reader, is your patriotism of the kind which believes, with the supporters of old monarchies, that the Sovereign Power can do no wrong? Consider the long record which has been laid before you, and say if your country has not enacted a most wicked, cruel, and shameful law, which merits only the condemnation and abhorrence of every heart. Consider that this law was aimed at the life, liberty, and happiness of the poor and least-privileged portion of our people—a class whom the laws should befriend, protect, and raise up. What is the true character of a law, whose working, whose fruits are such as this meagre outline of its history shows? Is it fit that such deeds and such a law should have your sanction and support? Will you remain in a moment’s doubt whether to be a friend or a foe to such a law? Will you countenance or support the man, in the church or in the state, who is not its open and out-spoken opponent? Will you not, rather, yourself trample it under foot, as alike the disgrace of your country, the enemy of humanity, and the enemy of God? And nobly join, with heart and hand, every honest man who seeks to load with the opprobrium they deserve, the law itself and everything that justifies and upholds it?

In this tract no mention is made of that great company of slaves who, flying from their intolerable wrongs and burdens, are overtaken before reaching the Free States—(alas, that we should mock ourselves with this empty name of free!)—and carried back into a more remote and hopeless slavery; nor of the thousands who, having fled in former years, and established themselves in industry and comfort in the Northern States, were compelled again to become fugitives, leaving their little all behind them, into a still more Northern land where, under British law, they find at last a resting-place and protection; nor to any great extent of the numerous cases of white citizens, prosecuted, fined, harassed in every way, for the crime of giving shelter and succor to the hunted wanderers. To have included these—all emphatically victims of the Fugitive Slave Law—would swell our tract into a volume. What a testimony against our land and our people is given by their accumulated weight! Every Living Man And Woman Is Guilty Of This Great Sin, Who Either By Apology, Or By Silence, Lends It The Least Support.

In a record like the foregoing, dealing so largely with facts and dates, perfect accuracy is not to be expected, although much pains have been taken to make it strictly correct. Any information, on good authority, which will help to make the record more exact, or more complete, will be very gratefully received. It should be addressed to Samuel May, Jr., No. 21 Cornhill, Boston, Mass.


American Anti-Slavery Society. The Fugitive Slave Law, and its Victims. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society. 1856.

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