Does the South's resistance to the fugitive slave laws show they cared more about preserving slavery

Discussion in 'Debates & Contests' started by 1stvermont, Apr 14, 2024.

  1. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    This debate (the first in a series) spilled over from a discussion on Discord. The participants desired a better forum to communicate and so came to a proper debate forum.

    The question is Does the South's support of the the fugitive slave laws show they cared more about preserving slavery than states rights?

    I contend that the South's support of the fugitive slave laws (immoral as they were) does not prove they cared more for the preservation of slavery than state rights. The misunderstanding comes from modern historians viewing "back" into history through a post-Civil War nationalistic lens. My opponent will argue the opposite. I allow him to make the first post with his arguments.

    The only rule is that we alternate posts. Thank you Kosciuszko
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2024
  2. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    1. The hypocrisy of the Slave Power is laid to bear most obviously on their position on the Fugitive Slave Act. Texas, in its secession document says, "The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof." If states' rights were more important than rights to hold slaves, why would they be upset over Northern states exercising their rights to pass Personal Liberty Laws? Texas isn't alone in this position. Georgia says the following in their secession document:
    2. [3:23 PM]
      "The non-slave-holding States generally repealed all laws intended to aid the execution of that act, and imposed penalties upon those citizens whose loyalty to the Constitution and their oaths might induce them to discharge their duty. Congress then passed the act of 1850, providing for the complete execution of this duty by Federal officers. This law, which their own bad faith rendered absolutely indispensible for the protection of constitutional rights, was instantly met with ferocious revilings and all conceivable modes of hostility." (Emphasis mine) Thus, the notion that the Southern slave states were principled defenders of states' rights rings hollow, as they were more than happy to push for greater central authority when it came to enforcing pro-slavery laws and court decisions
    o quote James McPherson, “In the name of protecting the rights of slaveholders, it rode roughshod over the state rights of Northern states. It extended the long arm of Federal law, enforced by the army and navy, into Northern states to recover escaped slaves and return them to their owners.”
     
  3. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    My opponent argues the Southern states' persistence in the fugitive slave laws is proof they cared more for slavery than states' rights, as many Northern states nullified the fugitive slave laws and would not cooperate with returning runaways to their owners. Thus, they cared more for slaves! He cites leading historians and Southern secession documents of Texas and Georgia (only four states directly mention slavery in their causes of secession, out of 14) to make the argument.

    In my book, Defending Dixie’s Land: What Every American Should Know About The South And The Civil War, I respond to the common arguments made that claim the south left the union over slavery, this being among them, I will post the relevant info here.

    Northern Violation of Fugitive Slave Laws


    No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
    -Article 4 clause 3 U.S Constitution


    Since the creation of the Union, the South had constitutional protection of its property. The fugitive slave laws ruled that runaway slaves (property) should be returned to their owners. By not cooperating with the fugitive slave law, the North was depriving individuals of their property. The Rev. J. H Thornwell in The Rights and the Duties of Masters, said the issue is "Not simply if we should emancipate our negroes or not, the real question is the relations of man to society- of states to the individual- and of individuals to states" Southern citizens' slave property ought to be treated as any other property. It would be the same as if someone's horse wandered across the state border onto an animal rights activist who kept it simply because they did not recognize the horse as property.

    In 1851, Northern federalist Daniel Webster said that if the North would not comply with the fugitive slave law, "The south would no longer be bound to observe the compact." In 1856, Southern writer Albert Taylor Bledsoe in his essay on Liberty and Slavery, wrote, "The great leaders of abolitionism- the Chases, the Sewards, and the Sumners, of the day, are waging a fierce, bitter, and relentless warfare against the constitution of their country." Even Abraham Lincoln said, "We profess to have no taste for running and catching ******s…why then do I yield support to a fugitive slave law? Because I do not understand that the Constitution, which guarantees that right, can be supported without it." President Franklin Pierce agreed when he said the following in his 1855 State of the Union Address: "Thus and thus only, by the reciprocal guarantee of all the rights of every state against interference on the part of another, was the present form of government established by our fathers and transmitted to us, and by no other means is it possible for it to exist."

    For the most part, I have tried to leave my opinion out of this book, especially if I agree with the North. I am looking to take the stance of a lawyer, to defend the South and leave my opinions out; unless they can help defend the South. But at this time, I think I should add my thoughts. The fugitive slave laws required Northerners to cooperate with the federal slave hounds in returning runaways. The slave laws instructed citizens to do what some thought was morally repulsive and against their Christian beliefs. The federal government instructed citizens to comply with a law simply because another state recognized humans as property. A great example of self-government and liberty was when those northern states nullified the tyrannical fugitive slave laws. Yet, this contention, and there will always be such disagreements, also shows why these two separate people, Southerners and Northerners, should have remained separate.

    Fugitive Slave Laws

    Some critics claim that the South only cared for states' rights when slavery was involved. To support this claim, they point out that the South objected to Northern states nullifying the federal fugitive slave laws. This objection seems reasonable on the surface but stems from a misunderstanding of both the purpose of states' rights and the Union of 1860.

    Even if we assume the premise for the sake of argument, it will only prove that the South did not care for the rights of the states in the North, not their state's rights. Since the rights of the people of each state were in place to secure its individual states citizen's rights and not another’s, this would make sense. And if one state decides not to follow the compact or contract [Constitution], disagreement will occur. This is also why the right to secession is vital to self-government.

    However, a proper understanding of states' rights is not lawlessness or states ignoring the Constitution; it is, in fact, the opposite. States' rights are in place to prevent the current politicians in power from violating the Constitution or overstepping its bounds. In this case, the northern states were violating the Constitution because, in their minds, slavery was wrong in God’s eyes. As William Seward put it, "There is a higher law than the constitution."

    Within the Constitution, southerners were already granted the right to have their property returned. Northern states were violating this. Therefore states’ rights, as Jefferson said, are the best way of preserving the authority of the Constitution over elected politicians in D.C. who would seek to abolish it. The Constitution, not men, was the authority. The wording of the United States "supremacy clause" is set out below, occurring in Article VI. The wording of the Confederate equivalent, also occurring in Article VI, is identical apart from the substitution of "Confederate" for "United."

    This Constitution and the Laws of the United States made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or to be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
     
  4. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    1. The quotes you later provide regarding Lincoln and Pierce confuses the issue at hand: we aren’t debating how the North felt over enforcing the FSA, though as we know the feelings were quite hostile in certain sections, but how the South felt about enacting, and later enforcing it, in face of the various personal liberty laws placed in opposition to it. I already demonstrated that SC, Texas, and Georgia directly cite obstruction of the FSA as an immediate cause of secession. Mississippi does as well: “[The Union] has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.” Alabama also alludes to it by stating that the Union is “avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama” (emphasis mine) It’s thus clear that many in the South, particularly the Cotton South, were indignant over the Northern states’ interference with, and partial nullification of, the Fugitive Slave Act. The year prior, Jefferson Davis concurred, saying that the fugitive laws “have unquestionable claim to the respect and observance of all who enjoy the benefits of our compact of Union; and that the acts of State Legislatures to defeat the purpose, or nullify the requirements of that provision, and the laws made in pursuance of it, are hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution.” But these laws, as observed by historians McPherson and Leonard Richard’s to quote “rode roughshod over the state rights of Northern states. It extended the long arm of Federal law, enforced by the army and navy, into Northern states to recover escaped slaves and return them to their owners.” (edited)
    2. [8:06 PM]
      To reiterate then, shouldn’t the allegedly pro-states rights south have respected this exercise in states rights? Why, by contrast, have naked support for a more powerful, centralized government in this one specific example, where it concerns slavery? >Even if we assume the premise for the sake of argument, it will only prove that the South did not care for the rights of the states in the North, not their state's rights
    3. [8:06 PM]
      In other words, it means they’re naked hypocrites: states rights for me, and not for thee, all of which further demonstrates that they aren’t principally in favor of states rights as its own end, regardless of the politics surrounding it, but merely as a means to further pro-slavery politics. As soon states rights principles go against them, they’re happy to invoke stronger central authority to get their way. As Professor Foner writes, “When it came to enforcing and maintaining the peculiar institution against an increasingly anti-slavery North, the Old South was all too happy to forget its fear of federal power…The slavery exception to otherwise robust support for states’ rights was a recurring feature of antebellum Southern politics..”

      However, a proper understanding of states' rights is not lawlessness or states ignoring the Constitution; it is, in fact, the opposite. States' rights are in place to prevent the current politicians in power from violating the Constitution or overstepping its bounds. In this case, the northern states were violating the Constitution because, in their minds, slavery was wrong in God’s eyes. Within the Constitution, southerners were already granted the right to have their property returned. Northern states were violating this. (edited)
    4. [8:06 PM]
      It wasn’t quite as simple as Northern states violating the return of slaves, though that did occur, but rather, as Foner elaborates, a“draconian” fugitive slave law [that]created a new category of federal officeholder, U.S. commissioners, authorized to hear cases of accused fugitives and issue certificates of removal, documents that could not be challenged in any court. The fugitive could neither claim a writ of habeas corpus nor testify at the hearing, whose sole purpose was to establish his or her identity. Federal marshals could deputize individuals to execute a commissioner’s orders and, if necessary, call on the assistance of local officials and even bystanders…No local law could interfere with the process; northern personal liberty laws were specifically mentioned in the act as examples of illegitimate “molestation” of the slaveowner.. Northern legislatures devised ways to resist, or nullify, this additional perceived overreach. (edited)
    5. [8:06 PM]
      So again, shouldn’t the Southern states have respected the states’ rights of the Northern states in nullifying the strengthening of Federal power when it came to the FSA? That is, if they weren’t primarily driven by the desire to defend slavery first and foremost. As I stated, and as you yourself tacitly acknowledged, they were only interested in states rights when it benefited them; I.e “their rights”, and no one else’s.
     
  5. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    Thank you for a wonderful, thoughtful reply! I'm sorry for the delay. It is likely to occur for the next week and a half, and then I will have more time.

    Regarding the first response, I don't wholly disagree with you; I used those prominent Northern politicians only to show that the insurance of upholding the fugitive slave laws was a constitutional issue.

    Also, there is no need to cite Southerners saying it was a cause of secession; I do so in my book! I never denied it was not a cause.

    Second and Third—This is where the issue lies: a proper understanding of states' rights. States' rights were never meant or used to nullify the Constitution; they are not against it. They were used to protect people from federal action that violated the Constitution. States' rights protect the Constitution! This is why I had an entire chapter on states' rights (North and South, BTW) explaining this.

    Four- Right, because it was a federal law and part of the Constitution that the northern states agreed to. I go back to my horse analogy; it would be like Virginia declaring Pennsylvania cannot own animals because they don't recognize them as property and steal them! When we understand states' rights are not against but for the constitution, this objection disappears.

    Five- No, as I said because states' rights are to make sure the people of your state (and in this case, property) are secured as they were under the Constitution! Once more, states' rights are for protecting what is in the Constitution; they are against politicians who ignore or go beyond its restraint and act tyrannically. This is not the case here; this is an enforcement of what was already agreed upon in the construction.

    Nationalist historians looking back from the winner's version of the war will not be able to give an accurate account of the South in 1860. It is not their fault. Like any country, its people are taught a certain way; this also holds true for America.
     
  6. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    1. >States' rights were never meant or used to nullify the Constitution; they are not against it. They were used to protect people from federal action that violated the Constitution. Right, and as the Northern States saw it, the "draconian" expansion of the FSA was a direct violation of their rights as states, which I think you tacitly acknowledge. But my point isn't whether nullification is pro or against the Constiution, but rather the fact that Southern Slave states did an abrupt about-face when dealing with law, in direct contrast to their alleged principles of states' rights being worth of preservation against an encroaching federal government. Here, however, the South wanted the Federal government to encroach by strengthening a centralized law to overrule state-created Personal Liberty Laws. >Four- Right, because it was a federal law and part of the Constitution that the northern states agreed to. Well, they "agreed" to it in the sense that a Democrat-controlled Congress passed it as part of the compromise of 1850. As I'll describe below, the enforced FSA was not in the original Constitution. (edited)
    2. [11:09 PM]
      >No, as I said because states' rights are to make sure the people of your state (and in this case, property) are secured as they were under the Constitution! Again, is it only your state that matters? You're hardly principled if you only dictate rules for others and not four yourself. In this case, to reiterate, the Slave states were happy to trample on states' rights of Free states by strengthening the Federal government to compel them to participate in tracking fugitive slaves. But, when a government is merely elected on stopping the expansion of slavery, and expansion alone, the seceding states suddenly cry foul and say that their rights are going to be encroached upon. It's naked hypocrisy, pure and simple. The Slave Power was happy to encroach on the rights of Free states but then cringed and whined when the opposite was even suggested.
    >Once more, states' rights are for protecting what is in the Constitution; they are against politicians who ignore or go beyond its restraint and act tyrannically. This is not the case here; this is an enforcement of what was already agreed upon in the construction. Right, and if you look into the provisions of the strengthened FSA it was verry much going "beyond its restraint" and bordering on tyrannical. The strengthening of the FSA that I mentioned, and Dr. Foner described was not in the Constitution. That clause read as follows: "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." What wasn't included in this clause was:
    1. Creating an entire new type of Federal officer who could seize accused fugitives without any possibility of legal challenge of their "certificates of removal"
    2. Stripping any requirement of a writ of habeus corpus and prohibiting the accused's testimony in court
    3. Superseding all state and local laws that, constitutionally, had the 10th amendment guarantee (aka, states' rights) to institute personal liberty laws.
    So this was not something that was "agreed upon in the construction." This was an entirely new construct that, as James McPherson observed, "rode roughshod over the state rights of Northern states."
     
  7. AARguy

    AARguy Banned

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    The more important... and relevant question.... is "What do we do when the Martians land?"

    Sorry, I'm just more interested in 2025 than 1825.
     
  8. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    Thank you for furthering the discussion.

    Once more, you think states' rights must mean you support every law or every state in whatever they decide to do; states' rights were there to prevent such thinking; it was to have diverse politics so people could live as they wished unhindered by a distant majority. Whether it harms your people or not; states' rights are the opposite of what you think; it protects your people from others, such as the Northern state's objection to returning slave property.

    While I have a heart and sympathy for those Northern states (who nullified federal law), the law only enforced what was already guaranteed under the Constitution. It was not an expansion but an enforcement of laws that were now neglected. States' rights, once more, are not used to nullify the Constitution but to enforce it and protect it from either not being enforced (as is the case here) or being added to it. No hypocrisy!

    This is why secession is so vital to liberty: to prevent states that disagree from having to fight politically. We must not forget that multiple times (including in 1860), northern states fought secession over their own states' rights being violated. As did the south in 1860.

    In response to this issue and secession, the South was giving up this federal enforcement of the fugitive slave laws by seeding from the Union; they now had no protection for runaways and no way to get them back.

    The Confederacy was unable to protect slaveowners when slaves fled to the North.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2024
  9. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    The issue of state jurisdiction over individual people, and the problems that could arise from that, especially as it related to extradition, was not really entirely clarified in the Constitution. This could be viewed as an overlooked defect in the original U.S. Constitution. The Constitution seemed to assume that each state could be trusted to dispense justice, and expected all the states to trust each other.

    In my opinion, bringing up Article 4 clause 3 does not prove that southern states cared less about state's rights than slavery. Rather it only seems to show that the protection of slavery property rights across state lines was vaguely and indirectly protected under the original Constitution.

    But if we view this in other terms besides slavery, such as if we were talking about stolen property consisting of inanimate objects, then jurisdiction extending into other states would probably not be seen as inconsistent with the concept of state's rights.
    State's rights was not really a totally absolute concept. Imagine for example if people from one state were committing crimes or terrorism against another state, and that state was harboring them and standing in the way of them from being brought to justice. It would be a disingenuous argument to say this "proves" that the concept of state's rights is not consistent. (An argument from absolutes)
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2024
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  10. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Active Member

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    Debate will be completed in voice chat.
     
  11. Farnsworth

    Farnsworth Well-Known Member

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    All moot since slavery was never going to be profitable outside the South, and most of the big politicians knew it at the time, both pro-slavery and antislavery. Geography limited it.

    See Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains, the section on The Cotton Kingdom. There is nothing to debate. The 1860 Census found 9 slaves in the territories covered by by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and almost all were owned by one man, who operated a ferry. Webster, in the Wilmot Proviso battles over slavery, didn't oppose slavery in New Mexico because it wasn't a relevant point; slavery was never going to be feasible there either. Jefferson Davis, and most southerners knew this, too. This in the late 1840's, more than 10 years before the war.

    Davis himself had surveyed the land from Texas to California as Secretary of War. Winfield Scott knew it, as did any American familiar with geography. Over 90% of blacks left alive after the Civil War remained in the South anyway when allegedly 'freed'.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2024
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  12. Bluesguy

    Bluesguy Well-Known Member Donor

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    Slaves were recognized property in the United States at the time. If a state passed a law that said any stolen cars brought into our state no longer belong to the person in the other state and that person can make no claim to it do you think the other states would object and invoke the Constitution?
     
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  13. Bluesguy

    Bluesguy Well-Known Member Donor

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    And I would add to that

    7. Secession, Insurrection of the Negroes, and Northern Incendiarism

    Secession was a right claimed by Virginia, New York and Rhode Island in their ratification of the Constitution and not denied by any but assented to by all. Seven States seceded in the winter of 1860-61, and, on March 11, 1861, formed a new Confederacy of sovereign States with virtually the same Constitution as the United States. It created “a government proper,” and the laws of Congress acted directly on individuals. The other Southern States seceded later when called on to engage in a war against this new Confederacy. Why was that first secession? African slavery had existed in every colony and State, and was particularly recognized and cared for in the Constitution, every State agreeing to return to the owner any fugitive slave. Without this recognition there could have been no Union. An eminent justice of the United States Supreme Court, Henry Baldwin, of Pennsylvania, had declared slavery “the cornerstone” of the Government (Johnson vs. Tompkins, 1 Baldwin). In time, the Northern States, whose shipping had brought many of the Negroes into this country, abandoned slavery. Still every man who held office swore to support the Constitution. There was only one honest way out of the obligation to respect slavery, and that was to withdraw from the Union.

    Instead of doing this, the Northern States became the place for numerous combinations of persons formed to bring about and promote Negro revolt and insurrection in the South. No laws were passed by the Northern States to restrain them.

    These persons encouraged Nat Turner’s insurrection in Virginia in 1828, and a similar attempt was made near Wilmington, in North Carolina.

    Thus it came about that a joint committee of the two Houses of the Legislature in North Carolina, in 1831, reported they were satisfied “that an extensive combination now exists to excite in the minds of the slaves and colored persons of this and the other slave States the feelings and opinions leading to insurrections.” They also reported “the actual detection of the circulation of the incendiary publications and discovery of the designs,” etc., “and we are led to fear the most ruinous consequences.”

    After that year the Abolition sentiment continued to grow at the North until, at length, a dozen Northern States nullified the Constitution and Acts of Congress, and, in Massachusetts, some persons even burned them! It was declared that those States “have permitted the open establishment of societies whose avowed object is to disturb the peace of other States.” “They have incited by emissaries, books, and pictures the Negroes to servile insurrection.” Although Congress had no authority over Negro slavery, its table was covered with petitions for its abolition expressed in the harshest possible terms about the Southern people.

    Every means was resorted to to disturb the peace of the South. Besides the effort to promote insurrection, a fight was made against the article in the Constitution allowing the South representation for three-fifths of its slaves. A provision to that effect appeared in the Resolutions of the Hartford Convention, and it kept appearing year after year, although the motion to allow such representation had originally come from a Northern man. Then the provision in the Constitution for returning fugitive slaves was nullified. Societies were formed to run off Negroes from the plantations by secret means, called “the Underground Railway.” Hundreds were carried off. Nothing was done to prevent it....

    Ashe, Samuel A. . A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-65 (p. 30). Ravenio Books. Kindle Edition.
     
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  14. Farnsworth

    Farnsworth Well-Known Member

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    Secession was universally recognized as legal; the New England states routinely invoked the threat for decades in their paranoia over the influence of Virginia on national politics, and even did so during the 1812 war. Madison never questioned their right to do so legally; his only response was to move troops to neighboring states in case they did secede and ally with England. It wasn't until 1829 or so that southern states began using the threat.

    https://billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/the-hartford-convention
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2024
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