Call Out the Consequences of a Bad Law—The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Fugitism is a great and growing national calamity. The increase of Negroes in the North, and of intelligence among the free Negroes and slaves of the South; with the multiplication of steamboats, and the construction of railroads, the means of escape will increase, and fugitism enlarge its borders: the General Government has no right to interfere, nor power to prevent it, if the right existed. That government can only assist a master in reclaiming his slave; but reclamation is not prevention. The present fugitive law will be sustained. Its repeal will dissolve the Union at once; but its execution will certainly lead to the same sad catastrophe at no very distant day. Every case of arrest will continue to be of new source of irritation in the North: every unsuccessful trial, an equal source of anger and resentment in the South. He who visits the former to reclaim a slave will return with curses on his lips, to be followed with the curses of those among whom he had adventured. It requires no spirit of prophecy to foresee the disastrous result of such crimination between political brethren; nor any deep-toned patriotism to pray for its early extinction. [Letter Two]
“Letters on Slavery to John C. Warren of Boston.” The National Intelligencer [Washington, DC],
April 3, 5, and 7, 1851.
The Fugitive Slave Law was passed on September 18, 1850, as part of the 1850 Compromise between the slave-holding South and the free North. Only six months after the law had passed Drake observed some of the early consequences and predicted that it was highly likely that the Union would be dissolved (civil war).
- Are there any laws currently being debated on the state or national level that will have negative consequences on the social order?
- What can you do to influence the debate in a positive way?