During the tumultuous decade before the Civil War, no issue was more divisive than the pursuit and return of fugitive slaves—a practice enforced under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. When free Blacks and their abolitionist allies intervened, prosecutions and trials inevitably followed. These cases involved high legal, political, and—most of all—human drama, with runaways desperate for freedom, their defenders seeking recourse to a “higher law” and normally fair-minded judges (even some opposed to slavery) considering the disposition of human beings as property.
Fugitive Justice tells the stories of three of the most dramatic fugitive slave trials of the 1850s, bringing to vivid life the determination of the fugitives, the radical tactics of their rescuers, the brutal doggedness of the slavehunters, and the tortuous response of the federal courts. These cases underscore the crucial role that runaway slaves played in building the tensions that led to the Civil War, and they show us how “civil disobedience” developed as a legal defense. As they unfold we can also see how such trials—whether of rescuers or of the slaves themselves—helped build the northern anti-slavery movement, even as they pushed southern firebrands closer to secession.
How could something so evil be treated so routinely by just men? The answer says much about how deeply the institution of slavery had penetrated American life even in free states. Fugitive Justice powerfully illuminates this painful episode in American history, and its role in the nation’s inexorable march to war.
A stirring account of courtroom collisions at the intersection of law, morality and politics.
An original and compelling account of the fugitive slave question and the antislavery lawyers who pushed the boundaries of advocacy in the name of morally just ends. With his signature style, Lubet reminds us of the strength, but also the limits, of what formal law can do.
Fugitive Justice is a riveting study of a tragic era in American history when law unmoored from morality and right held sway and the humanity of people treated as property was systematically ignored. Lubet’s brilliant and sensitive work should be read by all who are interested in the development of the American nation.
In this marvelously written and meticulously researched book, Lubet explores the fascinating war-by-proxy over the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave Southerners the right to use hired guns to recapture slaves who had escaped to the North. He brilliantly summons up a time when the last antebellum compromises over slavery were clanking toward their ultimate doom.
In the decade before the Civil War, the Fugitive Slave Act radicalized Northerners by placing the law on the side of slave owners seeking to recover their runaways. Lubet’s excellent book skillfully captures the passion of the corrosive courtroom battles that pitted personal conscience against the rule of law and helped persuade North and South that they could no longer dwell together.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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