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The Constitution makes provision for the return of "fugitives from labor." You remember it doesn't like to use the word slave because of the country's proclamation of "certain unalienable rights" for its citizens. The laws founded on this constitutional guarantee were found inadequate between 11789 and 1850. So as a part of the great series of compromises known collectively as the Compromise of 1850, a new Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This one stirred up more trouble than anyone expected.
While the idea of returning a slave who had found his freedom to slavery was unpalatable, the worst part of the law was the part the citizen was expected to play. A slave owner, or more likely a slave hunter, identifies some hapless black as a runaway slave and goes to a marshal to have that slave taken into custody. It is determined that help is needed to subdue and restrain the runaway, so any bystander can be drafted to assist in the capture. If this citizen does not cooperate he can be fined and/or jailed for his refusal. Of course, Boston was one of the most contentious places any catcher could pick to redeem a fugitive. While several well-known cases occurred in Boston, the most famous is the rendition of Anthony Burns. Our author says he played a part in or was witness to this capture, trial, and return. He was one of many well known men who formed the Committee of Vigilance. This committee whose purpose was to uphold the rights of the escaped slave and aid in his safe passage to free land had many famous people in its ranks: A. Bronson Alcott, John Andrew, Anson Burlingame, William Channing, Richard Dana, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, even Lysander Spooner.
Bearse worked as a mate on a coastal steamer that wintered in Charleston, S. C.Read more ›