The extradition of Anthony Burns as a fugitive slave was the most memorable case of the kind that has occurred since the adoption of the Federal Constitution. It was memorable for the place and for the time of its occurrence; the place being the ancient and chief seat of Liberty in America, and the time being just the moment when the cause of Liberty had received a most wicked and crushing blow from the hand of the Federal Government. It was memorable also for the difficulty with which it was accomplished, for the intense popular excitement which it caused, for the unexampled expense which it entailed, for the grave questions of law which it involved, for the punishment which it brought down upon the head of the chief actor, and for the political revolution which it drew on.
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Anthony Burns -A History
Charles Emery Stevens
Anthony Burns - A History
Chapter I. The Arrest.
Chapter II. The Attack On The Court House.
Chapter III. The Writ Of Personal Replevin.
Chapter IV. The Attempt To Purchase Burns.
Chapter V. The Examination.
Chapter VI. The Arguments.
Chapter VII. The Decision.
Chapter VIII. The Surrender.
Chapter IX. The Early Life Of Burns.
Chapter X. The Trader's Jail.
Chapter XI. The Ransomed Freedman.
Chapter XII. The Trial Of The Commissioner.
Appendix A. Warrant For The Arrest Of Burns.
Appendix B. The Writ Of Personal Replevin.
Appendix C. Record Of The Virginia Court.
Appendix D. The Decision Which Judge Loring Might Have Given.
Appendix E. The Commissioner's Certificate.
Appendix F. Military Orders Of Mayor Smith.
Appendix G. Letters Of U. S. Marshal And U. S. District Attorney To Mayor Smith.
Appendix H. Telegraphic Correspondence Between The U. S. Officers At Boston And The President.
Appendix I. Programme Of Arrangements For June 2d.
Appendix J. Testimonials To Joseph K. Hayes.
Appendix K. Letter Of Anthony Burns To The Baptist Church At Union, Fauquier Co., Virginia.
Appendix L. The Barre Slave Case.--The First Tried Under The Constitution Of 1780.
Appendix M. Speech Of Theodore Parker At The Faneuil Hall Meeting.
Anthony Burns - A History, C. E. Stevens
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
THE extradition of Anthony Burns as a fugitive slave was the most memorable case of the kind that has occurred since the adoption of the Federal Constitution. It was memorable for the place and for the time of its occurrence; the place being the ancient and chief seat of Liberty in America, and the time being just the moment when the cause of Liberty bad received a most wicked and crushing blow from the hand of the Federal Government. It was memorable also for the difficulty with which it was accomplished, for the intense popular excitement which it caused, for the unexampled expense which it entailed, for the grave questions of law which it involved, for the punishment which it brought down upon the head of the chief actor, and for the political revolution which it drew on. Viewing it thus, it seemed to me to merit an elaborate record; and as unusual facilities were furnished me, I ventured upon the task.
My materials have been derived chiefly from original sources. Of much that is narrated, I was myself an eye-witness. I was present at the Faneuil Hall meeting from its commencement to its close, and I witnessed the attack on the Court House. Throughout the trial of Burns, save a short interval, I had a seat within the bar, and carefully observed the arrangements made by the Marshal, and the demeanor of the various parties. While the troops were drawn up on the Common, on the second of June, I passed up and down the lines, and took note of their conduct. Afterward, on the same day, I traversed that section of the city from which the citizens were excluded by force of martial law, and noticed the manner in which the troops and the police were disposed for the purpose of guarding the streets and avenues. Finally, I stood upon the steps of the Custom House, when the Marshal with his posse and prisoner passed on his way to the wharf, and witnessed the assault of the soldiers, with sabres and bayonets, on the defenceless and unoffending multitude.
The account of the early life of Burns, of his arrest, of his voyage back to Virginia, of his imprisonment, and of his sojourn in North Carolina, was taken down by me from his own lips, soon after his return to Boston. For placing full confidence in his statements, the reader has the warrant of his former master, Col. Suttle, who, after his return to Alexandria, bore testimony to the truthfulness and honesty of Burns in a letter which is now first printed in this volume. I may add that he has no less warrant from all who have known Burns.
The true history of the transactions respecting the Writ of Replevin is here for the first time made public. It is drawn chiefly from a correspondence (still in manuscript) which passed between Governor Washburn and the Hon. Samuel E. Sewall, shortly after the rendition of Burns. For the use of this correspondence I am indebted to the courtesy of Governor Washburn. Some additional facts have been derived from the officer who was charged with the service of the writ.
The Rev. L. A. Grimes bore a large share in the transactions here narrated, and I have relied chiefly upon his authority in recounting such matters as came within his personal cognizance. This remark is likewise applicable to Mr. Joseph K. Hayes, who was a captain of the Boston police until the second of June, and acted a conspicuous part on that day. My acknowledgments are also due to Richard H. Dana, Jr., Esq., and Charles M. Ellis, Esq., for important documents, and for information besides.
The account of the evidence and the arguments on the examination, is abridged from the reports published at the time. The chapter relating to the trial of the Commissioner is based on facts of public notoriety, on documents published by authority of the General Court of Massachusetts, and on the original records of that body deposited in the State House.
The Appendix contains various authentic documents which are authority for certain statements in the narrative, and are otherwise illustrative of the subject. Among them are copies of letters written by District Attorney Hallett and Marshal Freeman, and on file in the office of the clerk of the Courts, at Dedham.
The Illustrations are from drawings made on the spot, by an artist who was an eye-witness of the principal scene. Adequately to depict that scene--presenting to view, as it did, tens of thousands of spectators--was impossible on a page of this size; but the picture here given will greatly assist the reader in forming a distinct conception of it. The edifices introduced into the sketches will be readily identified.
At the beginning of the volume will be found a transcript from the ancient Records of Massachusetts. The contrast between the transaction therein recorded and that presented in this narrative, will suggest its own impressive lesson. Immediately following, is a declaration of the Higher Law in the incomparable sentences of the great Roman Orator and Moral Philosopher.
As I write these lines, the country is passing through its greatest crisis of peril. On the western frontier, civil war is flagrant. At Washington, a Senator lies wounded and disabled, having been stealthily stricken down on the floor of the Senate, for words spoken in debate, by a member of the House from South Carolina. The whole South, with trifling exceptions, applauds this assault upon the representative of a sovereign State. A National Convention of the party in power has just given its sanction to the policy of which these events, as well as the extradition of Burns, are the legitimate fruits, and has nominated for the Presidency a person who has pledged himself fully to enforce that policy. Should that person be elected, and that policy be enforced, the cause of Freedom, whether in Kansas, in Washington, or in Massachusetts, would have just reason to apprehend a repetition of similar assaults from the slave power. To avert such a calamity every good citizen must labor; and I hope. that this History, conceived and executed for a more general purpose, may contribute somewhat also to that, particular end.
BOSTON, July, 1856.
IN the evening of the twenty-fourth of May, 1854, Anthony Burns was arrested as a fugitive slave in the heart of Boston. He had been employed, during the day, in a clothing store situated in Brattle street, and belonging to Coffin Pitts, a respectable colored trader. The locality was peculiarly suggestive of liberty and human rights. In full view, at the distance of only three or four rods, stands Brattle street Church, imbedded in the front face of which is a cannon-ball, preserved as a sacred memento of the Siege of Boston. A little farther off, but also in full view, stands Faneuil Hall. The street itself, an ancient one, perpetuates the name of one of the most enlightened friends of liberty that in the early days assisted in building up the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this favored locality Burns had passed exactly one month of quiet freedom, spent in honest industry, when the sudden interruption of his happiness took place.
The arrest was made under a warrant issued on the same day, by Edward G. Loring, a United States Commissioner. [See Appendix A]
. The person charged with its immediate execution was a man who had already become infamous by making the hunting of fugitive slaves his special vocation. The name of this man was Asa O. Butman. He had been observed in the store of Mr. Pitts during the day; but, although he was seen more than once to fix his eye upon Burns, no suspicion had been excited by his appearance. Not dreaming of danger, Burns kept about his business until the hour of closing the shop arrived, when he locked the door and departed. It had been his constant custom to accompany his employer, with whom he boarded, directly home; but on the evening in question he took it into his head, from mere caprice, to stroll down the street in an opposite direction. Mr. Pitts meanwhile pursued his way homeward. After going on aimlessly for a few rods, Burns retraced his steps, intending to overtake his employer, who, at that moment, was disappearing round the corner of Brattle and Court streets. Apprehending nothing, he went leisurely along until, just as he had reached the comer of Hanover and Court streets, a hand was roughly laid on his shoulder, and an exclamation of, "Stop, old boy!" arrested his steps. On turning, he found himself in the grasp of Butman. Still unsuspicious of the real state of the case, and supposing that he had been beset only by a street brawler, he demanded to know why he was detained. Butman informed him that he was arrested on a charge of having broken into and robbed a jewelry-store. Conscious of innocence, and feeling assured that he could easily clear himself of the charge, Burns made no resistance, and did not even alarm his employer, who was then only two or three rods in advance. The spot where the arrest was made, was hard by Peter B. Brigham's drinking-saloon, the most noted establishment of the kind in Boston. From that, or from some other lurking-place in the vicinity, six or seven men immediately rushed forth to the assistance of the officer. Encircling the prisoner, they in a moment had him off his feet, took him in their arms horizontally as they would a dead person, and, avoiding the side-walk, rapidly bore him down the middle of the street to the Court House. At the entrance, they were received by the United States Marshal, who stood with a drawn sword upon the outer steps, manifestly awaiting their appearance. Without pause, or being set down upon his feet, the prisoner was hurried up several flights of stairs to the United States jury-room, near the top of the building. He had been informed, on being arrested, that he was to be conducted into the presence of the person whom he was accused of robbing. Finding no such person present, he now demanded to know why the jeweler did not come. Butman and his associates professed wonder at his non-appearance. The delay continued. Suddenly, the truth flashed upon the unhappy prisoner--he was an arrested fugitive slave! Then, with the quickness of thought, the whole dismal future opened up before his mental vision. As in a dissolving view, the land of freedom faded out, and the dark land of slavery usurped its place. He saw himself again a slave ; far worse than that, a slave disgraced; pointed at as a runaway; punished; perhaps punished unto death. Overpowered by the prospect, he, in his own simple but expressive phrase, "gave all up." Fast confined within granite walls, and closely guarded by eight armed men, he saw the full hopelessness of his situation, and did not for a moment indulge any thought of escape.
Twenty minutes had elapsed, when the door was thrown open, and the Marshal, accompanied by two men, entered the room. The men were Charles F. Suttle, the claimant of Burns, and his agent, William Brent; Virginians both. Immediately stepping toward the prisoner, Mr. Suttle, with mock politeness, took off his hat, saluted the latter with a low bow, and said, with emphasis on the appellation:
"How do you do, Mr. Burns?"
The prisoner had no reply for this unseemly triumph over his blasted hopes.
"Why did you run away from me?" pursued Suttle.
"I fell asleep on board the vessel where I worked, and, before I woke up, she set sail and carried me off."
"Haven't I always treated you. well, Tony?"
To this question Burns made no answer.
"Haven't I always given you money when you needed?"
"You have always given me twelve and a half-cents once a year."
Nothing further passed between the two, but in this brief colloquy Burns had already made admissions decisive of his fate. While it was going on, Brent stood gazing steadily in the prisoner's face, but exchanged no words, not even salutations with him. The object of the wily slaveholder had been accomplished, and with his friend he now took his departure. As he passed out, the Marshal put the inquiry, "Well, that's the man, is it?" to which Suttle responded, "Yes."
No sooner had they gone, than the door was again strongly barred, and Burns was left to pass the night with the men by whom he had been arrested. Recalling his thoughts from Suttle, he now turned with indignant scorn upon Butman.
"I thought," said he, "you arrested me for stealing."
"I was afraid of a mob," replied the dastard, "and that was the reason why I didn't arrest you when you left the store." He added that he had been standing on the opposite side of the street, watching for Burns.
"If you had told me the truth, it wouldn't have been so easy a job to arrest me," said the stalwart slave. [Burns was about six feet in height, broad chested, and otherwise firmly built. The Ed.]
"If you had resisted, I should have shot you down," was the retort of the slave-hunter.
Butman rightly judged that a lie was necessary to the success of his enterprise. Had Burns suspected the truth, he might have been slain, but he would never have been captured. His flashing eye and deepened tones, as well as his words, gave assurance of this, as he spoke of the subject afterward.
Butman and his fellow catchpolls had no thought of putting themselves to any personal discomfort. Belonging to a class of men who are governed by their sensual appetites, they reckoned upon riotous living at the expense of the Government as a part of their reward. So infamous was the business put upon them, and so few were the persons who would undertake it, that they in a measure had the Government in their power, and could make their own terms. Accordingly, no sooner were they well housed for the night, with their prisoner, than various choice viands, which had been ordered by them from a neighboring refectory, were introduced into the apartment. With these unwonted luxuries they at once proceeded to gorge themselves, while Burns, who had tasted no food since noon, was left to pass the night fasting.
Having finished their repast, they beguiled the hours with card-playing. Tiring of this, they next fell to entertaining Burns with talk about Sims, Of whom, once a prisoner in the same room like himself, he now heard for the first time. At last, having exhausted their resources, they stretched themselves out in various postures, and one after another sunk into sleep. As may well be imagined, there was no sleep that night for Burns; seated in his chair, statue-like, the hours flew by him, unheeded, while his great calamity stood ever present staring him in the face.
With the next dawn, his keepers awoke to indulge their appetites afresh, a liberal supply of intoxicating liquors being, as before, an important item in their bill of fare. Burns was now for the first time invited to join them, in their refreshments, but he loathed food and declined the invitation. His coarse and sensual jailers, unable to comprehend what nature should have taught them, imputed his refusal to obstinacy, and muttered that "it was not worth while for him to make a d--d fool of himself."
In a short time, Riley, the deputy marshal, entered the room and ordered handcuffs to be brought; they were procured by the ever ready Butman. With these Burns was manacled, and in that condition was forthwith conducted to the United States court-room on the floor below. Suttle and Brent were already there; the Marshal and ten or twelve persons in his interest were the only others in the room. Burns was placed in the prisoner's seat, opposite the judges' bench, where he remained handcuffed, with Butman and one of his aids, armed with revolvers, seated on each side of him. In a few minutes after, Commissioner Loring entered the room, and the proceedings in the case forthwith commenced.
As yet, the public had received no hint of the arrest; the morning papers of the city were dumb; apparently, the affair had escaped the vigilance of the ubiquitous reporters. It was the purpose and hope of all the parties concerned to hasten the examination, and, if possible, remove the prisoner beyond reach before any rumor of their proceedings should get abroad. Unfortunately for the success of their design, Richard H. Dana, Jr., happened to pass the Court House just before nine o'clock, the hour set for the examination, and received an intimation of what was going on within. He immediately turned his steps and entered the courtroom. Making his way through some opposition to the side of Burns, he offered the latter his professional services. The prisoner declined them. "It will be of no use," he said; "they have got me." He added, that, if he protracted the matter by making a defence, it would be worse for him after getting back to Virginia. The humane lawyer reasoned the matter with him; the case, he said, depended on certain papers and records in which some flaw might be detected. Even the men who guarded him, betrayed, for the moment, into a better impulse by his aspect of despair, joined in urging him to make a defence.
Others, also, including Charles M. Ellis and Theodore Parker, who had before this time entered the room, attempted, but without success, to persuade him to make a stand.
The Commissioner making his appearance at this juncture as before stated, Mr. Dana at once went up and spoke to him privately. Burns, he said, was paralyzed with fear, and in a condition wholly unfit to act for himself. He suggested that the Commissioner should endeavor to ascertain the real wishes of Burns in the matter; and that for this purpose he should call the prisoner to the bench, instead of addressing him while in the dock, with Suttle sitting between them, as he was, and gazing into the prisoner's face. "I intend to do so," replied the Commissioner.
The examination now proceeded. The counsel for the claimant read the warrant for the arrest, with the officer's return upon it, and presented the record from the Virginia, court required by the fugitive slave act. Brent was then put upon the stand as a witness to prove the identity of the prisoner with the person named in the warrant. His testimony was received without interruption, until he was asked to state the admissions made by Burns to Suttle while in custody the night before. At this point Mr. Dana interposed. He had remained quiet thus far, supposing that, after the claimant had made out his case, the Commissioner intended to redeem his pledge by calling Burns to the bench and ascertaining if he desired to make a defence. But he now saw that the prisoner should at once have counsel to object to the introduction of improper testimony. Accordingly he rose, and, addressing the court as amicus curiae, urged the propriety of delay. The motion was resisted by the claimant's counsel. Burns, it was said, had admitted that he was Suttle's slave, and did not desire a defence; and it was broadly hinted that the only object of those who sought delay was for public purposes of their own. Disdaining to reply to this charge, Mr. Dana continued to press his point with great earnestness. He was followed by Mr. Ellis, who also addressed the court as amicus curiae.
At the conclusion of these addresses, the Commissioner directed the officer to bring Burns to him. This was done, after the manacles were covertly removed from his hands. The Commissioner then addressed him in a kind manner, told him what the claim was, inquired if he wished to make a defence, and informed him that he could have counsel if he desired. Burns looked round the court-room timidly, and made no reply.
"Anthony," said the Commissioner, "would you like to go away and come back here and meet me to-morrow or next day, and tell me what you want to do?"
Mr. Dana watched him closely, but could not see whether he indicated assent or dissent. The Commissioner was also in doubt, but after a moment said,
"Anthony, I understand you to say you would?"
"I should," at length replied Burns.
"Then it shall be so," said the Commissioner, and the prisoner was conducted back to his seat.
The presence of Theodore Parker has been mentioned. He afterward described his interview with Burns, and the appearance of the latter, in the presence of Suttle. "As no counsel had been assigned," said he, "I conferred with Burns. I told him I was a minister, and had been appointed at a meeting of citizens, minister at large in behalf of fugitive slaves, and asked him if he did not want counsel. He said, 'I shall have to go back. Mr. Suttle knows me--Brent knows me. If I must go back, I want to go back as easy as I can.' 'But surely,' I said, 'it can do you no harm to make a defence.' 'Well,' said Burns, 'You may do as you have a mind to about it.' He seemed to me to be stupefied with fear; and when he talked with me, he kept looking at Suttle and Brent. His eye wandered from me, as an insane man's eye wanders, and fixed itself on Suttle. When Loring asked him whether he would have counsel, his eye fluctuated from Loring to Suttle, and back again to Loring, and when he said, 'Yes,' he turned away from Suttle to do so."
The examination was adjourned until Saturday, the twenty-seventh day of the month; and when the court re-opened on that morning, a further adjournment till the Monday following was ordered, on the ground of the lateness of the hour when the prisoner's counsel had been appointed. Meanwhile, Burns was again manacled and taken back to the jury-room, where he remained, under the constant surveillance of four armed keepers, from Thursday until Monday. The interval was industriously employed by these tools of the slaveholder in the livery of the Federal Government, in attempts to lead Burns into making admissions fatal to himself. All the cunning of their base natures was called into play to compass their end. They made the warmest professions of friendship for him, and invoked the direst curses on their souls if they did not make their professions good. They plied him with questions which, quietly assuming the fact that he was Suttle's slave, looked toward information on unimportant points. Thus they inquired whether Suttle "raised or bought him." In this instance Burns proved too shrewd for them, and told them to find out some other way.
Still pursuing their object, they sought to get him committed in writing. On entering the jury-room on Friday, Mr. Grimes, a clergyman of Boston, found Burns in the act of dictating a letter to Suttle, and one of his keepers acting as an amanuensis. Burns had been persuaded to take this step by the artful suggestions of the official. The people of Boston, this fellow said, were laboring under the impression that Suttle had been a hard master to Burns; this tended to irritate Suttle; but if Burns would dictate a statement to the contrary, it would cause his master to feel more kindly toward him. Ascertaining these facts, Mr. Grimes administered so stern a rebuke to the fellow that he stammered out an apology, and promised to destroy the letter. Nothing, however, was farther from his thoughts; and Burns, now made aware that the letter was to be used as an instrument against him, sought to get it into his possession. After some delay, it was delivered into his hands for the purpose of making some addition to it, and by him was immediately destroyed.
Following their natural bent, these servants of the Federal Government invited their prisoner to join them in gambling for money. His reply was, that he never played cards. They professed to think it strange that he should refuse; Sims, they said, had played with them and won a number of dollars. They next urged him to entertain them with negro melodies, and again cited the example of Sims in support of their request. But Burns replied, with a pathos that was wasted upon their hard natures,--"My singing days are over. I have now learned another song." Beginning at length to suspect the religious character of their prisoner, one of them jeeringly requested Burns to pray for him. "I trust I shall do that," was the simple reply.
Thus did Burns pass the hours of his imprisonment, alternately the object of treacherous interrogations and the sport of scoffers. Thus did officers of the Federal Government, not content with the infamy attaching even to the strict and decorous discharge of their function, add thereto the ineffable meanness of seeking to inveigle their prisoner into some unguarded act or expression, with which they might hasten to the slaveholder, and claim a reward.
THE news of Burns's arrest quickly spread through the city. It found the public mind in a very different frame from what it had been in at the arrest of Sims, three years before. Those who had been most zealous, on that occasion, for the execution of the fugitive slave act, now stood passive, or openly expressed their indignation at this new attempt. No immediate step was taken, however, except by an association styled a Committee of Vigilance. This association took its origin from the passage of the fugitive slave act. Its sole object was to defeat, in all cases, the execution of that hated statute. Thoroughly organized under a written code of laws, with the necessary officers and working committees arranged on the principle of a subdivision of labor, with wealth and professional talent at its command, actuated by the most determined purpose and operating in secret, it was well fitted to strike powerful blows for the accomplishment of its object. The roll of its members displayed the most diversified assemblage of characters, but this diversity only secured its greater efficiency. The white and the colored race, freeborn sons of Massachusetts and fugitive slaves from the South, here cooperated together. Among them were men of fine culture, and of high social position; men too of renown. Some of the rich men of Boston were enrolled in this committee. A most important portion consisted of members of the Suffolk Bar, by whose counsels the committee were guided through the legal perils of their undertaking. The treasury was bountifully supplied by voluntary contributions. One gave of his poverty what he could, while another subscribed his five hundred dollars. The methods of operation were various. Whatever tended to keep the victim from falling into the grasp of the law, or to rescue him if he had already fallen in, was legitimate to their purpose. If a fugitive slave arrived in Boston, he was at once taken in charge. In case there was no pursuit, he remained at ease; but otherwise, he was dispatched at the expense of the Committee on his way to Canada. Sometimes the officers of the law were notified that a certain vessel with a fugitive slave on board would arrive at the port of Boston on a day named; but this Committee of Vigilance had also been notified, and, while the officers were waiting on the wharf for the vessel to come up, the agents of the Committee had taken boat, boarded the ship far out in the harbor, withdrawn the slave,--perhaps under a show of legal authority,--and landed him at some solitary point on shore, where a carriage was in waiting by which he was placed beyond the reach of pursuit. Whenever a slaveholder arrived in the city, he was watched and the object of his visit inquired into. If he had come in the pursuit of ordinary business, he was left alone, but the slightest indication that he was in pursuit of a slave, sufficed to place him under a surveillance that never ceased while he remained in the city. On one occasion, a female slave, while walking in the streets of Boston, suddenly beheld her owner a short distance off, approaching toward her. She turned and fled down another street, notified some of the Committee of the apparition, and the same night was removed from the city. The slaveholder was traced to his hotel, and never lost sight of afterwards. Night and day, his steps were dogged by members of the Committee. When one had followed him a certain length of time, he was passed over to another; now it was a white man, and now a colored man, that, like his shadow, pursued him wherever he went. It was afterward ascertained that he had come to Boston in pursuit of the very slave by whom he had been recognized, but who had fortunately escaped recognition by him.
By this Committee of Vigilance, the case of Burns was now taken in hand. Early in the afternoon of the day following his arrest, a full meeting for the purpose was secretly convened. On the main point there was but one voice; all agreed that, be the Commissioner's decision what it might, Burns should never be taken back to Virginia, if it were in their power to prevent. But there were two opinions as to the method by which they should proceed to effect their purpose. One party counselled an attack on the Court House, and a forcible rescue of the prisoner. The other party were in favor of a less violent course. They proposed to await the Commissioner's decision; then, if it were adverse to the prisoner, they would crowd the streets when he was brought forth, present an impassable living barrier to the progress of the escort, and see to it that, in the melee which would inevitably follow, Burns made good his escape. Both plans were long and vehemently debated, but, without arriving at any decision, the meeting was adjourned till evening. At this second session, the more peaceful method prevailed by a very large majority. For the purpose of arousing the popular feeling to the requisite pitch and also indicating to the public the particular line of action which had been chosen, it was at the same time decided to call a public meeting in Faneuil Hall for the evening following. Another step was, to detail a certain number of men to watch the Court House, night and day, lest the prisoner should be removed unawares. Some, in the excess of their apprehensions, feared that the Commissioner might hold a midnight session of his court, and send Burns back into slavery under cover of darkness. For the convenience of this watch, a wealthy member of the association threw open the loft of his warehouse and liberally furnished it with provisions.
The advocates for an assault on the Court House, though outvoted, were not to be beaten off from their purpose. At the close of the evening meeting, a voice loudly called upon all who were in favor of that mode of action, to tarry after the rest had retired. Fifteen or twenty persons responded to this call; but when it was proposed that they should pledge themselves in writing to engage with force and arms in the perilous enterprise, only seven of the number had the courage to affix their signatures to the agreement. Not dismayed by such severe sifting, these seven still resolved to go forward; and the following night--the night for the meeting in Faneuil Hall--was fixed upon for the execution of their plan.
On Friday morning, the call for that meeting appeared in all the papers and was placarded throughout the city. "To secure justice for a man claimed as a slave by a Virginia kidnapper, and imprisoned in Boston Court House, in defiance of the laws of Massachusetts"--thus began the notice. "Shall he be plunged into the hell of Virginia slavery by a Massachusetts Judge of Probate?"--was the more ominous interrogatory with which it closed. By eight o'clock in the evening, the venerable Hall was filled to overflowing. The assembly was called to order by Samuel E. Sewall, a distinguished citizen of Boston. George R. Russell, an ex-mayor of the neighboring city of Roxbury, was placed in the President's chair, while among the Vice-Presidents were several gentlemen who had been of the Governor's Council, together with Dr. Samuel G. Howe, the distinguished philanthropist and historian of the Greek Revolution. Dr. Henry I. Bowditch and Robert Morris, the colored lawyer of Boston, filled the post of Secretaries.
The subject of the evening was introduced by the President in language of sarcasm and irony. "I once thought," said he, "that a fugitive could never be taken from Boston. I was mistaken! One has been taken from among us, and another lies in peril of his liberty. The boast of the slaveholder is, that he will catch his slaves under the shadow of Bunker Hill. We have made compromises until we find that compromise is concession, and concession is degradation. The question has come at last, whether the North will still consent to do what it is held base to do at the south. When Henry Clay was asked whether it was expected that northern men would catch slaves for the slaveholders, he replied: 'No! of course not! We will never expect you to do what we hold it base to do.' Now, the very men who had acquiesced with Mr. Clay, demand of us that we catch their slaves. It seems that the Constitution has nothing for us to do but to help catch fugitive slaves! When we get Cuba and Mexico as slave states, when the foreign slave trade is re-established with all the appalling horrors of the Middle Passage, and the Atlantic is again filled with the bodies of dead Africans, then we may think it time to awaken to our duty. God grant that we may do so soon! The time will come when slavery will pass away, and our children shall have only its hideous memory to make them wonder at the deeds of their fathers. For one, I hope to die in a land of liberty--in a land which no slave-hunter shall dare pollute with his presence."
Dr. Howe presented a series of resolves that were subsequently adopted by the assembly as the expression of its sentiments. They embodied these epigrammatic sentences: "The time has come to declare and to demonstrate the fact that no slavehunter can carry his prey from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."--"That which is not just is not law, and that which is not law ought not to be obeyed."--"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."--"Nothing so well becomes Faneuil Hall, as the most determined resistance to a bloody and overshadowing despotism."--"It is the will of God that every man should be free; we will as God wills; God's will be done."--"No man's freedom is safe unless all men are free."
One of the ex-councillors of state gave his voice for "fighting." John L. Swift, a young lawyer of fervid oratory, next addressed the assembly. "Burns," said he, "is in the Court House. Is there any law to keep him there? If we allow Marshal Freeman to carry away that man, then the word, 'Cowards,' should be stamped upon our foreheads. When we go from this Cradle of Liberty, let us go to the tomb of liberty, the Court House. To-morrow, Burns will have remained incarcerated there three days, and I hope tomorrow to witness, in his release, the resurrection of liberty."
There were two men in the Hall for whose words, more than for those of all others, the assembly impatiently waited. These were Wendell Phillips and Theodore Parker. Regarded by the public as the leaders of the present enterprise, closely associated in spirit and purpose, and eminent, both, for the power of speech, they yet differed from each other in many particulars. Mr. Phillips belonged to the aristocracy, so far as such a class may be supposed to exist in this country. He had an ancestry to boast of; his family name was interwoven with the history of the Commonwealth; and some of those who had borne it had filled high offices in the government. Mr. Parker, on the other hand, was of more plebeian origin; he had been the architect of his own fortunes, and was by far the most distinguished person of his lineage. In religion, Mr. Phillips was a Calvinist, and believed that the Holy Scriptures were the inspired word of God; while Mr. Parker, rejecting all creeds and disowned by all sects, held the Bible to contain only the wisdom of fallible men, and claimed for himself and for future sages the possible power of improving thereon. Mr. Phillips was a lawyer, but he seldom appeared in the courts; Mr. Parker was a clergyman, and, though without a church and eschewing the holy sacraments, preached constantly to a large but shifting congregation. Mr. Phillips excelled in oratory, Mr. Parker was a greater master of the pen. The former studied men, the latter, books. Mr. Parker had a wider reputation--Europe had heard of him; but those who knew both would have forsaken him to hang upon the lips of Mr. Phillips. Mr. Parker had secured his triumph when he had uttered his speech; Mr. Phillips found his chief satisfaction in the accomplishment of the end at which his oratory was aimed. Mr. Phillips had the garb and gait of a gentleman; Mr. Parker, as he moved along with stumbling steps and prone looks, had the aspect of a recluse student. In their physical characteristics, they differed not less than in mental and moral traits. Mr. Phillips was a person of commanding height and elegant proportions; his features were cast in the Roman mould, his head was rounded and balanced almost to the ideal standard. A ruddy complexion, fair hair, and eyes of sparkling blue, showed him to be of the true Saxon race. Mr. Parker, on the contrary, was of inferior stature and ungraceful form; he had the face of a Diogenes, and his massive head, capacious of brain in the frontal region, was not symmetrically developed. He had an atrabiliar complexion, dark hair, and large, dark eyes that looked forth from behind spectacles with a steady, unwinking gaze.
The speeches of both, on the present occasion, were so imperfectly reported that the public abroad had but a faint conception of their power and effect. Mr. Phillips was the first to speak.
"The city government is on our side," began the orator; a storm of cheers greeted the announcement. "I am glad," continued he, "to hear the applause of that sentiment. If the city police had been warned on the Sims case, as they are now, not to lift a finger in behalf of the kidnappers, under pain of instant dismissal, Thomas Sims would have been here in Boston to-day. To-morrow is to determine whether we are ready to do the duty they have left us to do. There is now no law in Massachusetts, and when law ceases, the people may act in their own sovereignty. I am against squatter sovereignty in Nebraska, and against kidnappers' sovereignty in Boston. See to it, that tomorrow, in the streets of Boston, you ratify the verdict of Faneuil Hall, that Anthony Burns has no master but his God.
"The question is to be settled tomorrow, whether we shall adhere to the case of Shadrach or the case of Sims. Will you adhere to the case of Sims, and see this man carried down State Street, between two hundred men? I have been talking seventeen years about slavery, and it seems to me I have talked to little purpose, for within three years, two slaves can be carried away from Boston. Nebraska, I call knocking a man down, and this is spitting in his face after he is down. When I heard of this case, and that Burns was locked up in that Court House, my heart sank within me.
"See to it, every one of you, as you love the honor of Boston, that you watch this case so closely that you can look into that man's eyes. When he comes up for trial, get a sight at him, and don't lose sight of him. There is nothing like the mute eloquence of a suffering man to urge to duty; be there, and I will trust the result. If Boston streets are to be so often desecrated by the sight of returning fugitives, let us be there, that we may tell our children we saw it done. There is now no use for Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall is the purlieus of the Court House tomorrow morning, where the children of Adams and Hancock may prove that they are not bastards. Let us prove that we are worthy of liberty."
Theodore Parker followed his coadjutor. Addressing the assembly as "fellow subjects of Virginia," he poured forth a torrent of the most bitter invective. At the close,
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