Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Review: Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery

Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery, by R.J.M. Blackett, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2013.
This is an interesting addition to the story of the underground railroad.  It reviews slavery, mostly in the state of Pennsylvania, and the results of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  It tells a few stories, but in much greater detail than other books I have read.  There are two topics which intrigued me.
Commissioner Richard McAllister was appointed by Supreme Court Justice Robert Grier.  The law of 1850 required a review before someone could be returned using the Fugitive Slave Act.  However, McAllister  deliberately tried to thwart any semblance of judicial review.  He would hold courts early in the morning or late at night so defense lawyers would not know of the proceedings, he would not recognize lawyers defending accused slaves.  He would not let people speak, or consider their statements.  He held hearing in uncomfortable small rooms to avoid large crowds, and to make things inconvenient.  In the end, he always sent accused slaves back to bondage.  His was a kangaroo hearing, and it became such he was eventually forced to resign, and no one took his place.  Hearings had to travel to Philadelphia. 
The other issue covered extensively was the deliberate kidnapping of free blacks by conniving men.  The goal was to quickly get those kidnapped out of Pennsylvania, and into Maryland and whisked south on a train.  They were quickly sold at market, and lost their liberty.  This happened many times, and it was difficult to prosecute those involved, however there were some prosecutions that slowed the practice.  However many free blacks lost their freedom in this way.
This book has the underground railroad playing a large role in slave escapes, often sponsoring people to live in the South and encourage slaves to seek their freedom, provide assistance.  However at the same time, the book warns against downplaying the role of the slaves their selves in seeking their own freedom. 
Very good review of these issues.  The argument was made by someone at the time that it was the underground railroad which created dissatisfaction, and slaves would have been happy with their lot if left alone.  They almost forced them to runaway, and then abandoned them where they could be protected by their master.  However the arguments against this idea are overwhelming.  People seek out freedom, and many of the slaves were willing to die for that opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment