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Anthony Burns (American National Biography)

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David R. Maggines, "Burns, Anthony," American National Biography Online,, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-00129.html.

The Burns affair was the most important and publicized fugitive slave case in the history of American slavery because of its unique set of circumstances. It coincided with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and with the Sherman M. Booth fugitive slave rescue case earlier that year, all of which contributed to national political realignment over the slavery issue. In Massachusetts, antislavery parties succeeded Whiggery. Eight states now enacted new personal liberty laws to counter the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. An 1855 Massachusetts statute protected alleged fugitives with due process of law while punishing state officials and militiamen involved in recaption. Two Know Nothing legislatures resolved to remove Loring from his state probate office under this statute, but the governor refused to comply. In 1858 a Republican governor and legislature did remove him, occasioning a dramatic debate in the house between John Andrew, defender of the courthouse rioters who argued for removal, and Caleb Cushing, the attorney general who had ensured the fugitive's return and prosecuted the rioters. After Burns's rendition, no owner chanced recovery in the city.

Throughout his ordeal Anthony Burns demonstrated his intelligence and resourcefulness, courage and humor, honesty and integrity. As the victimized protagonist of the affair, he became "the fugitive." He originally had discouraged the legal defense that Bostonians urged on his behalf, telling his lawyer that "I shall fare worse if I resist," for his master was "a malicious man if he was crossed." And so he was returned, punished, sold, and celebrated as the "Boston Lion."

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How to Cite This Page: "Anthony Burns (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/15093.