The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco

Lisa Murphy

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Feb 16, 2019
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Washington State
An apt observation and also how an old figure of speech began that we now apply to those literally "sold down the river" who failed to reach their sweet destination by risking life and limb for liberty. One notable exception to no escapes from Deep South states rule is William and Ellen Craft, who ran 1,000 miles for freedom on literal railroads as 'white master' and captive. Ellen's octoroon light skin was key to their key success at a new life in true roles as man and wife. One far more exceptional fine example is Charles Ball. Born enslaved in Maryland, Charles was sold to a trader bound for Georgia, from whence he escaped on foot and make it back near Mason-Dixon's line one year later. After more than 2 decades of freedom to pursue happiness in newfound prosperity, an heir of his late "master" found Charles , then recaptured him for transit back to the State of Georgia. But Charles Ball got victory in the end, who risked it all again on a 2nd flight that met success in Pennsylvania, where he opted to write his own autobiography.

Despite noteworthy exceptions, successful escapes from Far South states are quite rare. This gave high value to a slave way down there. One Labor Economics Professor from Louisville, KY published research on pre versus post-1850 Fugitive Slave Act market value. His work shows clear evidence that prices decline as freedom grows near. He estimates an overall price drop in Deep South geo regions up to 30% below average Border States' increase during one 10-year timespan. Prof. Connor goes to state an observation about dramatic decline in newspaper ad revenue and reward amount offered to capture runaway 'property.' This lends confirmation to findings you recite from Mr. Delbanco's work.
I'd like to say that I have been particularly impressed by William Still's The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First Hand Accounts. The wide array of clever ways that people got away, how the Vigilance Committees helped, and the lives that were saved or sacrificed in the process makes for amazing, hair-raising, heroic stories, and Still was there keeping notes (according to his account.) Highly recommended reading, for any who haven't see it.

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Andersonh1

Brigadier General
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South Carolina
Mr Young, I'm curious to know if you feel Civil War may have been delayed, less devastating or never begun if no slave had run away to give Northern citizens the real southern lowdown.

What does this even mean? The war started because a bunch of northerners decided to invade the south to deal with "the real southern lowdown"? As if prior to the war people from the North could not travel into the South and vice versa and form their own opinions?
 

Rhea Cole

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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Part 15:

Delbanco does not assume that the most sensible course in 1850 was for the North to eschew compromise on the Fugitive Slave Act. It is not clear to him that if disunion came a decade before 1861 that the Northern public would have met secession with military resolve. An independent Confederacy, unharmed by war, might also have been a decidedly expansionist Slave Holders' Empire, able to make war on Mexico and annex islands in the Caribbean. Delbanco writes that "Only by imagining what might have happened if compromise had failed can we begin to understand those, like Webster, who acted in the present based on their best guess of what would happen in the future."
(p. 251)

Many Northerners viewed Senator Daniel Webster as a disgrace after he spoke in favor of compromise and against the conscience of his section. William Seward's wife, raised an anti-slavery Quaker, said that the word compromise made her nauseous when it was applied to fugitive slaves. But, for many in the North, it was seeing blacks arrested in their towns and cities that led them to oppose slavery and made them willing to risk death in a civil war to restrict the power of slave owners.
Thank you very much for taking the time & effort to write this.
 

Pat Young

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Long Island, NY
Mr Young, I'm curious to know if you feel Civil War may have been delayed, less devastating or never begun if no slave had run away to give Northern citizens the real southern lowdown.
We know that fugitive slaves and the Fugitive Slave Act played an important role in creating the Abolitionist bulwark against the expansion of slavery and starting the Republican Party.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The Fugitive Slave Act was necessary to keep slavery intact in the border regions. Without it, slave owners in those areas either have to move with their slaves, emancipate their slaves or see them attempt to escape. Without a Fugitive Slave Act, there is always the risk of a big sell off southward. It did not happen, which is why there was speculative value in buying and holding involuntary workers.
Fugitive slaves, functional free blacks in northern states, and former southerners who had gone north and criticized the slave system all made the slave system vulnerable.
 

CLuckJD

Private
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Nov 19, 2018
Location
MS, USA
Maybe they were running from Southern lowdown to Northern lowdown into the Northern "Jim Crow" yankee land. Only a few really cared.
Whatever lowdown they found on arrival must have been 7th High Heaven by comparison to what they had before departure. Why did so many leave one location with no returns from their new destination?
 

CLuckJD

Private
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Location
MS, USA
Oh they were freed from slavery which is good but they were not freed from being Black.
No sir. They could not escape from their skin but were far away from where flesh peddlers routinely bought or sold it on public auction blocks. I say that's got to be a helluva lot better than all other hardships that awaited them elsewhere.
 

CLuckJD

Private
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Nov 19, 2018
Location
MS, USA
They can do that now?
Not quite. Almost, though. Some ways do in fact exist nowadays to make dark skin so light that no visual observation at close range can tell the difference. So you might as well say "Yes.'" Dermatology experts developed a rare line of cosmetics called race change makeup. But it's not meant or practical for permanent application. Exorbitantly high cost and too many other false props to put on the whole show preclude an opening act. Beside that, why even try to act or hide what you really are inside where far greater and better things lie? As for me, I take pride in who I am. Rather than waste precious resources on falsity, I face reality to affect lasting change. If folks think some white person did something great that I'm the one behind, what good does it do me to get credit where it's truly due? How can my grand deceptions possibly help change existing perceptions otherwise?
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I agree 100% that this tome is priceless, having read it from cover to cover more than I dare recall, as my next go round is imminent.


Question, if slightly off thread. In this book or another, do you know of any information on Underground stations in the Harrisburg, PA area? Been looking for years. I know they're around, one or two are still on the map but the rest seem to have vanished. ONE was actually torn down to build an ARBY'S for Heaven's sake. Went out of business pretty darn swiftly, area residents were not happy.
 

CLuckJD

Private
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Location
MS, USA
Question, if slightly off thread. In this book or another, do you know of any information on Underground stations in the Harrisburg, PA area? Been looking for years. I know they're around, one or two are still on the map but the rest seem to have vanished. ONE was actually torn down to build an ARBY'S for Heaven's sake. Went out of business pretty darn swiftly, area residents were not happy.
You gotta be kidding, girl! So many popped up from just one Google search, I KNOW you don't need to ask ME! But here's a few starters:

Happy Hunting! :smile:


 
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