"The Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Meeting," Boston (MA) Herald, October 15, 1850, p. 2.
Boston (MA) Herald
The Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Meeting
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
The Anti Fugitive Slave Law Meeting at Faneuil Hall --- Great Crowd --- Any Amount of Enthusiasm!
The old Cradle of Liberty began to fill at an early hour last evening, and by the time the hour arrived for calling the meeting to order, the old Hall was densely packed. Quite a number of ladies graced the galleries, not a small portiono of whom were colored. Indeed, throughout the Hall, our colored citizens were well represented.
The assemblage was called to orer at 7 1-4 o’clock by Francis Jackson, Esq.
On motion HON. CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS was appointed president.
Mr. Adams having taken the chair amid much applause, the organization was completed by the appointment of Samuel E. Sewell, Getahon B. Weston, Francis Jackson, and Timothy Gilbert as Vice Presidents, and Dr. Stone and Mr. Thompson as Secretaries.
The blessing of heaven was then invoked upon the meeting and its objects by the Rev. Dr. Lowell in an appropriate prayer.
The President of the meeting (Mr. Adams) then proceeded to make some remarks. He said that by the present fugitive slave law a large portion of our people were placed beyond the pale of humanity, and at he tender mercies of those who claim to own them as property. No edict of Rome was marked with more atrocity.
He then proceeded to speak of those who claimed that the anti-slavery agitation was settled by the passage of this law. He said that the question was settled just as Gen Gage settled the tea tax question on Bunker Hill, or just as Austria has settled the question with Hungary.
The people will take the force out of the present fugitive slave law, just as they did out of the stamp act, and make it utterly nugatory and ultimately procure its repeal.
He regarded this law, or its successful operation, as a mockery of the bright visions of our patriot fathers, who hoped to establish a new era for liberty in this hemisphere.
Above this law is the higher law, propounded by the Almighty himself – the law of “good will to men.” Carrying out the present law, would be indicting the greatest possible injury upon the Constitution in accordance with which it is pretended to have been passed, as it will tend to sap all the respect and veneration that is now felt for it among us.
It offends that moral sense of community which if it cannot evade will ride over and trample it under foot. He advocated no forcible means for procuring its repeal. It is a stain upon the statutes of a free people and will be wiped out by lawful and peaceable means.
Mr. Adams spoke about 15 minutes from notes and sat down amid loud applause.
Frederick Douglass was then loudly called for. The chairman introduced him to the meeting as one who had been authorized by the colored portion of our citizens to declare their sentiments and feelings to the meeting.
Mr. Douglass continued by saying that he did not rise there to talk of slavery, but he came to speak to them as men, human beings, in behalf of his stricken, sorrowing, oppressed brethren.
He then went on to speak of the nature of the present slave law, and its consequences, if carried out. It had carried consternation and despair into many families. Alarm and terror are wide spread among all the colored people. During his two days ourney to this city, he had met large numbers on their way to Canada – fleeing from this boasted land of freedom.
They are disposing of their property and preparing to migrate. Many in this city feel their personal insecurity, and are inquiring “what shall we do?” “where shall we go?” and were anxiously awaiting the result of this meeting. They are afraid of the hunters of men, even under the shadow of Bunker Hill.
If heroism, fortitude and determination entitle one to liberty, then are most of the fugitives in the North entitle to freedom. The annals of no nation exhibit greater acts of individual heroism and courage, that are to be found in the history of the fugitives from southern oppression.
Douglass went on to relate one or two instances that had come under his own notice where slaves had overcome the greatest obstacles – suffering starveation, heat and cold – in making their way to freedom.
By this law the oaths of any two white men are sufficient to take any colored man back to slavery. His own family had been thrown into a state of terror and agitation by the receipt of intelligence that the hunters were upon his track.
He had made preparations to visit Canada, but had put it off in consequence, as he was determined to give those came after him such a reception as their errand merited. When men throw off the dignity of manhood, and become bloodhounds, they should be treated as bloodhounds. (Great applause.)
Douglass here declared that he owned himself – that seven hundred and fifty dollars in British gold had been paid to his master, and a “quit claim deed” had been given to him.
It is out of the question for the colored people, of themselves alone, to talk of resistance. The colored people of Boston had resolved to suffer death rather than be carried back to slavery (loud applause). We must be prepared should the law be put in operation here, to see the streets of Boston running with blood.
Douglass occupied about an hour. He was frequently interrupted by bursts of applause, and altogether his speech was really a very eloquent affair, and told with great effect upon his audience.
The chairman here announced that a letter had been received from Hon. Josiah Quincy, whose age prevented his being there in person. Richard H. Dann stepped upon the platform with the letter in his hand, but before reading it, however, he said, if one name more than another had a right to be heard at Fanueil Hall it was that of “Quincy.” The Adams’s were here in person and the Quicys’ in spirit.
The letter is addressed to J. Ingeraoll Bowditch, and is quite lengthy. The venerable writer thinks the late fugitive slave law cannot be carried out in this State, it is so contrary to the opinions and sentiments of the people of Massachusetts. The law of 1792 has lain inoperative for 60 years, and the law of 1850, he doubted not, would be equally inoperative.
Any man, officer or layman, who should aid in carrying this law into effect, would find it difficult to remain long in a community whose feelings and sentiments he had so shocked and outraged.
The letter counsels the colored people to remain in this city as no possible harm can accrue to them from so doing.
The letter concludes by hoping that no party or political tinge will be given to the meeting.
Here some resolutions were proposed for the consideration of the meeting, expressing deep rooted hostility to all the provisions of the fugitive slave law – declaring it to be contrary to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and subversive of the design which the constitution was established to promote.
They also promise protection to all fugitive slaves, and invite those now here to remain. The last one (there were six) recommends that a vigilance committee be appointed to carry into effect the spirit of the foregoing resolutions.
Wendell Phillips then took the stand and spoke for about an hour in his usually clear, forcible, and eloquent style. Mr. Phillips is certainly one of the finest speakers we have among us. He took a rather more radical stand against the fugitive slave law than the preceding speakers. He was in favor of nullification – peacable nullification – of the law, and complimented South Carolina for her spirit in nullifying laws which are not to her liking.
He doubted whether there was unanimity of sentiment against the law, spoken of in Mr. Quincy’s letter. He hoped, although he was fearful, that the future historian could record that the fugitive slave found freedom and protection upon the soil of the old Bay State.
James A. Briggs, of Cleveland, Ohio, editor we believe of the True Democrat, was loudly called for. His appearance upon the stand was greeted with loud applause.
He commenced by telling the negroes present that if they were fearful of staying in Boston, they might go to Giddings’ district (the Cleveland, Ohio, district) and they would be safe.
We were obliged to leave the hall, it being quite late. We understand that after Mr. Briggs had sat down, Mr. Spooner, shoe dealer in Broad street, made quite a moving speech, and that after he got through, Douglass took the stand, and soon he was obliged to knock under to the strong desire of the audience to get to their houses.
The resolutions were passed in a hurry, and the meeting adjourned.