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Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial Hardcover – December 8, 2010

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Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial + Fugitive Slave on Trial: The Anthony Burns Case and Abolitionist Outrage (Landmark Law Cases and American Society)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (December 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674047044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674047044
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,098,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


In the decade before the Civil War, the Fugitive Slave Act radicalized Northerners by placing the law on the side of slave owners seeking to recover their runaways. Lubet's excellent book skillfully captures the passion of the corrosive courtroom battles that pitted personal conscience against the rule of law and helped persuade North and South that they could no longer dwell together. (David O. Stewart, author of Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy)

In this marvelously written and meticulously researched book, Lubet explores the fascinating war-by-proxy over the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave Southerners the right to use hired guns to recapture slaves who had escaped to the North. He brilliantly summons up a time when the last antebellum compromises over slavery were clanking toward their ultimate doom. (Alex Heard, author of The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South)

An original and compelling account of the fugitive slave question and the antislavery lawyers who pushed the boundaries of advocacy in the name of morally just ends. With his signature style, Lubet reminds us of the strength, but also the limits, of what formal law can do. (Christopher Alan Bracey, author of Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice)

Fugitive Justice is a riveting study of a tragic era in American history when law unmoored from morality and right held sway and the humanity of people treated as property was systematically ignored. Lubet's brilliant and sensitive work should be read by all who are interested in the development of the American nation. (Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family)

A stirring account of courtroom collisions at the intersection of law, morality and politics. (Kirkus Reviews 2010-08-01)

About the Author

Steven Lubet is Williams Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Bartlit Center for Trial Strategy, Northwestern University School of Law.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffry V. Mallow on November 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Steven Lubet's masterful work deserves all of the encomiums it has already received from legal scholars and historians. Allow this layperson to add his own. Professor Lubet has accomplished several tasks. The first is to give the history of the Fugitive Slave Act and how it pitted North against South, leading inexorably to the dissolution of the Union and the Civil War. This he does in just enough detail to inform but not overwhelm the reader.

The second is to describe the ins and outs of the trials, the maneuverings of prosecution and defense lawyers, their mistakes and their triumphs. His formidable legal knowledge is complemented by his writing talent. These sections had me on the edge of my seat, although the trial outcomes are of course known.

Lubet traces the evolution of the defense arguments against the slaveholders and their hirelings. In the early 1850's the tactic was not to attack the constitutionality of the Act, but to attempt to show that it did not apply to the defendants: they were misidentified, they were free men randomly kidnapped by the slave catchers, and other arguments, some clearly ruses. By the end of the decade the outrage of the North allowed the tactics to change to the invocation of "higher law": moral and religious arguments to trump the Act itself. (One can not help but see the analogy with the modern civil rights movement.) Along the way, we meet some heroic defenders of runaway slaves, among them attorney Richard Henry Dana, generally known for his book, "Two Years Before the Mast" and rescuer Charles Langston, son of a veteran of the American Revolution and his former slave, who were, by mutual consent and affection, common law man and wife.

Lubet avoids polemics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven J. Harper on November 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most people are unfamiliar with the fugitive slave trials during the decade immediately preceding the Civil War. In this masterful account, Professor Lubet reveals the singular significance of those proceedings. Even more importantly, he depicts the fascinating intersection of courtroom strategy with the forces that fractured the nation. An effective historical summary of the slavery problem that plagued the Union from its earliest days sets a perfect stage for the book's main event: the detailed examination of a handful of fugitive slave trials. Focusing on the litigants, the lawyers, and the judges, Lubet produces a compelling narrative. In this absorbing account, attorneys pursuing their principal missions -- the zealous representation of their clients in individual cases -- became central players in shaping the larger controversy that split the country.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. hinkel on December 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Steven Lubet has managed to write an important book about the Runaway Slave Act in such a wonderful fashion that it reads like a current day legal thriller. This book is great for sosmeone interested in serious history or a good legal drama
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