A slice of American history: What slave-catching wrought in Wisconsin

The case of the man imprisoned for rescuing a fugitive slave, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court, is American History.  The Wisconsin Historical Society documents the rescue with newspapers, broadsheets, photographs, and lesson plans.  In America today, parents protest schools teaching children divisive theories instead of the real history that they learned in school.

Between 1840 and 1850, Wisconsin's non–American Indian population had swollen from 31,000 to 305,000.  The growing population allowed Wisconsin to gain statehood on May 29, 1848, as the 30th state.  In the 1860 Census, the population had grown to 775,881, and Wisconsin was the 15th most populous state.  Wisconsin's population was larger than those of five of the states whose leaders chose to secede.

The full text of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (An Act to amend ... the Act of 1793} is available at ourdocuments.gov.  It is the fourth of the five acts of the Compromise of 1850 (after the Act Establishing the Boundaries for the State of Texas, and the Act for the Admission of the State of California into the Union).

The first four sections give legal authority to commissioners to implement this draconian law.  Section 5 of the act is a single sentence with 374 words.  The words abolitionists would quote when speaking about the law were "to summon and call to their aid the bystanders ... and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law [.]"

Section 7 is a single sentence with 291 words.  The words abolitionists would quote were "any person who shall knowingly obstruct ... from arresting such a fugitive ... or shall rescue ... or aid, such person ... to escape ... or shall harbor such fugitive, so as to prevent the arrest of such person ... shall be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months[.]"

In 1850, a man named Garland purchased Joshua Glover and transported him to his farm in St. Louis, Missouri.  Glover escaped from Garland's plantation in 1852 and traveled 400 miles north until he reached Racine, Wisconsin.  He found employment and housing with a local mill.  In 1854, Garland obtained a federal warrant for Glover's arrest.  Then he led a group of slave-catchers to Glover's home and took him to a Milwaukee prison.  A group of abolitionists from Racine went to Milwaukee.

Sherman Miller Booth was born in Davenport, New York in 1812 and graduated from Yale University in 1841.  In May 1848, he moved to Wisconsin, where he took charge of the "American Freeman," a Liberty Party paper in Milwaukee.

In 1854, Booth learned that a runaway slave had been captured by his Missouri owner and jailed in Milwaukee under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Booth rode his horse through the city streets, scattering hand-bills summoning a citizens' meeting and shouting, "Freemen to the rescue."  A mob soon broke into the jail and rescued Glover.  With the support of abolitionists in Wisconsin, Glover traveled to Ontario, where he lived the rest of his life. 

The affair placed Booth in the center of a six-year controversy between state and federal authorities that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Wisconsin Legislature denounced the federal court's ruling against Booth as an "arbitrary act of power ... void and of no force."  The day before James Buchanan relinquished the presidency to Abraham Lincoln, he pardoned Booth.

Pushing the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law into the states returned a few slaves.  However, for six years, abolitionists spread news updates on this case throughout the Free States.  When President Lincoln asked for Volunteers, the story of Joshua Glover influenced hundreds of thousands, who volunteered.

The Volunteers were an unintended consequence of the Fugitive Slave Law.  Today, pushing divisive theories into children may also have unintended consequences.

Image via Pxhere.

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