Sunday, January 13, 2008

Meeting called to discuss Fugitive Slave Law - Northampton Courier, 10/22/1850

Northampton Courier, 10/29/1850


The citizens of Northampton, without distinction of party or sect, assembled in their spacious Town Hall on Wednesday evening last. The hall was well filled. Hon. William Clark was chosen Chairman, and Wm. Tyler and Seth Hunt Secretaries. The call for the meeting, signed by several fugitives, having been read by Mr. Tyler, the Chair called for resolutions, when C.P. Huntington, Esq. Read a letter, which he had previously received, from two or three of the fugitives in Northampton, requesting him to prepare resolutions for the consideration of the meeting, and to offer some remarks on the subject which the meeting was called to consider. Mr. Huntington read some of the provisions of the fugitive law, and commented upon their atrocious character with great severity and with striking effect. He did not believe the fugitive was in any more danger in Massachusetts now than under the law of ’93. He did not believe a fugitive could be delivered up in this State. We have the habeas corpus in Massachusetts, and Congress can’t deprive us of it. Try that before you try pistols. He counseled the black man not to arm himself until the law had been tested in this State, -- not till a fugitive has been delivered over to the man-stealers. [We should counsel different from this. It is wisdom, we believe, to fasten the door before the horse is stolen, instead of afterwards.]

As an expression of his views on the subject, Mr. Huntington submitted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That the late Fugitive Slave Act is not only at war with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and our Republican Constitutions, but barbarous, despotic, and desperately wicked in its purpose, and provisions.

Resolved, That the principles of Freedom have sufficient root in the soil, the institutions, and laws of Massachusetts, and in the souls of her citizens, to protect all persons of all conditions in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property; and that these principles should be especially applied to the extermination of men-hunters, men-stealers, and men-sellers, if any such should appear, according to the most approved legal mode.

Resolved, That we tender to all persons alarmed for their safety by the enactment of this Law, our earnest sympathies and assistance; assuring them that we will use our best efforts to effect its speedy repeal, and all legitimate means to prevent the enforcement of its unprecedented and cruel measures within our borders.

Mr. Lyman Parsons then took the floor, but gave way to Rev. Rufus Ellis, who addressed to the meeting a noble speech, full of high-toned sentiments. The conclusions at which Mr. Ellis had arrived in regard to the duty of Christians in relation to this law, are, we believe, such as will be approved by a majority of conscientious people. Those who have, or appear to have, no consciences in this matter, will of course take a different view of the subject. Mr. Ellis’s remarks were received by the meeting with marked evidences of approval. We are happy in being able to give a full report of his remarks.

Mr. Huntington’s resolutions were then passed unanimously.

Rev. J.N. Mars, a colored clergyman from Springfield, addressed the meeting in a speech which engaged the undivided attention and elicited the warm approbation of the audience. He remarked that he had read the infamous law often, and the oftener he read it, the blacker it appeared to him. “I have it with me,” said he, holding up a large sheet containing the fugitive law enclosed in heavy black lines, -- “dressed in mourning; and I would to God I could preach its funeral sermon.” (Great cheering.) While the Congress were coming to a conclusion in relation to this bill, he was coming to a conclusion also; and when they had made up their minds to pass it, he had made up his mind that if a p[oor] panting fugitive came to his door, he should come in. If the man-stealer came after him, he resolved that he should NOT come in. He was aware that in doing this he should break the law, but he must obey his conscience. If the man-stealer wants the thousand dollars fine, he may have it, if he can find it! If he wants a thousand dollars for his slave, he may have that, too, if he can find it. And if they wanted him to stay six months in jail, why he could do that; -- but the poor fugitive he would not surrender.

Mr. Mars said he had never been a slave, having been born in Connecticut; but from what he had seen and heard in relation to the practical operations of Slavery, he detested and abhorred the “institution,” and declared that he “wouldn’t be a slave no how.” He had always called himself a peace man, and always meant to be one. He would have peace at all events. If a slave-hunter should come to his door after his slave, he would throw him out – he would have peace!

Mr. Mars counseled the fugitives to remain here. He would not run till he had one battle with the man-hunters. His speech raised the feelings of the meeting somewhat above the tone of Mr. Huntington’s resolutions, and had there been a test of the feeling then it would have been in spirit similar to that of the following resolution, passed at the recent fugitive slave meeting in Faneuil Hall: --

Resolved, That, constitution or no constitution, law or no law, we will not allow a Fugitive Slave to be taken from Massachusetts.

Mr. Wm. Parker of Bensonville, here commenced speaking, and being an ultra Garrisonian believer, he soon came down upon the clergy and the churches, -- not, however, until he had given Daniel Webster and Prof. Stuart a “side-winder,” greatly to our own delight. His attack upon the clergy very naturally created a disturbance, and cries of “down! down!” fell thick around poor Parker’s ears, who several times attempted to go on; but it was of no use, -- “down” he must go. The meeting here, amid disorder and confusion, was dissolved. Parker’s course was unwise and unjustifiable; but had it not been for indiscretion on the other side, we think there would have been no serious disturbance of the meeting, and the audience would have had the benefit of the remarks of several gentlemen who were present and were prepared to speak.

(Transcribed by Marc Ferguson)

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