Friends of Freedom (1850) Declaration of sentiments of the colored citizens of Boston, on the fugitive slave bill!!!
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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05345 Author/Creator: Friends of Freedom (1850) Place Written: Boston, Massachusetts Type: Broadside Date: circa 5 October 1850 Pagination: 1 p. ; 57.8 x 41 cm. Order a Copy
African American citizens of Boston respond to the Fugitive Slave Law. Published by the "Friends of Freedom." Signed in print by Lewis Hayden as President of the Friends of Freedom and William C. Nell as Secretary. Also includes another text block at the bottom titled "Address to the Clergy of Massachusetts." Printed at No. 86 Hanover Street, Boston.
The Fugitive Slave Law kindled widespread outrage in the North and converted thousands of Northerners to the free soil doctrine that slavery should be barred from the western territories. "We went to bed one night old-fashioned, conservative, compromise, Union Whigs," wrote a Massachusetts factory owner, "and waked up stark mad Abolitionists." Eight northern states attempted to invalidate the law by enacting "personal liberty" laws that forbade state officials from assisting in the return of runaways and extending the right of a jury trial to fugitives.
Across the North during the 1850s, free blacks staged protests against segregated churches, schools, and public transportation. In New York and Pennsylvania, free blacks launched petition drives for equal voting rights. African churches offered sanctuary to runaways, and black "vigilance" groups in cities like New York and Detroit battled slave catchers who sought to recapture fugitive slaves.
Some 15,000 free blacks, convinced that they could never achieve equality in the United States, emigrated to Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa after the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Law.
In the following selection, Robert C. Nell, a free man of color in Boston, denounces the Fugitive Slave Law.
The Fugitive Slave Bill, (exhibited in its hideous deformity at our previous meeting,) has already in hot haste commenced its bloody crusade o'er the land, and the liability of ourselves and families becoming its victims at the caprice of Southern men-stealers, imperatively demands an expression, whether we will tamely submit to chains and slavery, or whether we will, at all and every hazard, Live and Die freemen.
The system of American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, is a violation of every sentiment of Christianity and the antipodes of every dictate of humanity.--The slaveholder's pretentions to a claim on human property, are of no more weight than those of the midnight assassin or the pirate on the high seas. "God made all men FREE,-- free as the birds that cleave the air or sing on the branches...."
The Massachusetts Bill of Rights declares that ALL MEN are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their liberties.
The example of the Revolutionary Fathers in resisting British oppression, throwing the tea overboard in Boston Harbor, rather than submit to a three-penny tax, is a most significant one to us, when MAN is likely to be deprived of his God-given liberty....
The American people glory in the struggle of 1776, and laud the names of those who made the bloody resistance to tyranny. The battle cry of Patrick Henry of Virginia --"GIVE ME LIBERTY, OR GIVE ME DEATH" -- and that of General Warren, "MY SONS SCORN TO BE SLAVES," are immortalized, and we are proud in not being a[n] exception to that inspiration. It warms our hearts, and will nerve our right arms, to do all, and suffer all for Liberty.
The laudation and assistance volunteered by the United States to the Poles and Greeks, and South Americans in their struggles for freedom,--the recent manifestations of sympathy with...the oppressed of Italy, and with Kossuth and his band of noble Hungarians, are so many incentives to the victims of Republican American despotism, to manfully assert their independence, and martyr-like, DIE freemen, rather than LIVE slaves....
Resolved, That in view of the imminent danger, present and looked for, we caution every colored man, woman and child, to be careful in their walks through the highways and byways of the city by day and doubly so, if out at night....
Resolved, That any Commissioner who would deliver up a fugitive slave to a Southern highwayman, under this infamous and unconstitutional law, would have delivered up Jesus Christ to his persecutors for one-third of the price that Judas Iscariot did....
Resolved, That though we gratefully acknowledge that the mane of the British Lion affords a nestling place [in Canada] for our brethren in danger from the claws of the American Eagle, we would, nevertheless, counsel against their leaving the soil of their birth, consecrated by their tears, toils and perils, but yet to be rendered truly, the "land of the free and the home of the brave." The ties of consanguinity, bid ALL remain who would lend a helping hand to the millions now in bonds. But at all events, if the soil of Bunker Hill, Concord and Lexington is the last bulwark of liberty, we can nowhere fill more honorable graves....
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