The Fugitive Slave Law.
It is stated that there are twenty thousand fugitive slaves in Canada at the present time, five thousand of the number having arrived since the passage of the fugitive slave law.
How all this information has been obtained is not stated at all. No data are furnished – no sources of information stated. It is all guess work, and very random guessing, too. The fugitive slave law has been passed about eight months, and these figures would pretend that there have been about six hundred arrivals per month of negro fugitives from the States into Canada. This is an extravagant story, and would be an exaggeration if it was continued to the six hundred. If that number has passed over the line, it is because the stringency of the new law has made the Northern States an unsafe residence for fugitives. They could stay no longer in the United States; and this should be a fact in favor of the efficiency of the law, in making fugitives insecure, and thus repressing the hopes and motives for flight. But some writers take the other ground, and estimate the whole loss by these fugitives as “occasioned by the intelligency of the laws of the General Government.” The laws of the General Government, as we understand them, apply only to the restoration of fugitives when demanded by the master. In any instance when the demand has been made, and the delivery defeated by the inefficiency of the law, there is cause of complaint against the law. In how many cases of this five thousand alleged fugitives has the demand been made, and in how many has the owner been defeated? We have heard of one or two hard cases for claimants, but they are extremely few in comparison to the number of instances in which the claim was successful escape is unquestionably a heavy loss of property to their owners; but it is not candid to charge their escape to the inefficiency of a law which only undertakes to comply with a specific demand.
Too new fugitive slave law operates as well as any law could, involving matters wherein so much feeling exists. The cases of failure to carry it into effect are extremely few and exceptional – those of a faithful execution are numerous, and thus far establish its efficiency. The clamors against it are in prospect, threats to repeal it; but these clamors have served to bring out a strong determination not support; and the composition of both House of the next Congress makes it certain that it must stand as a law for many years yet. We have no doubt that it will be faithfully executed as law, and that the opposition will be fruitless. In the meantime it should not be charged with duties which do not belong to its nature, or reproached with not preventing the flight of slaves when its simple function is to send back such as their masters find and demand. Let it be treated with more candor, at least by those whose rights it acknowledges and whose interest it serves.