Civil War Book Review: Border War: Fighting Over Slavery Before the Civil War

by James Durney on August 8, 2011 · 0 comments

Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War
by Stanley Harrold

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; First Edition edition (October 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807834319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807834312

Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (Civil War America)Slavery did not present a great problem when the majority of the states held slaves.  As states emancipated slaves and other states did not, two systems created problems.  As America moved through the 1800s, the slavery problem grew until civil war settled the issue.  Petitions to Congress, resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law, John Brown and Uncle Tom’s Cabin occupy our attention in the East.  “The Troubles” in Kansas occupies our attention in the West.  Together, they make up the majority of the history of anti-slavery activities prior to the war.  This book looks at the everyday problems on the border between a free and slave society.  It is not so much a history of great events but of problems.  These problems built the attitudes causing the big events that make up history.  New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri were the border.  On this canvass is played out a very nasty contest were comprise while attempted is almost impossible to archive.

An escaped slave is a loss from $50,000 to $80,000, in today’s dollars.  Any debit contracted to buy a slave is not forgiven if the slave escapes.  From Slave States comes a constant stream of runaway slaves and those trying to capture them.  These results in confrontations that are often violent.  Northern Whites and Free Blacks join escaped slaves fighting those trying to recapture them.  Often, the court became involved and usually protected the escaped slave.  Southern states tried diplomacy to establish their rights under the law to their property.  As the Northern courts become less sympathetic and refuse to return escaped slaves, the South turns to the Federal Government.

A major problem in Northern states is attempts to enslave black residents.  In some cases, the claim is the person ran away years ago and is legal property.  These cases often went to court with varied results.  In other cases, gangs simply kidnapped people to take south and sell into slavery.  Philadelphia has a real problem with kidnappers for years, young men and children being prime targets of the gangs.

Going south are kidnappers that have jumped bail or escaped arrest.  Another and possibly larger group are men jailed while trying to capture an escaped slave.  Southern states are loath to surrender these people; just as Northern states are loath to surrender Blacks.  The result is a continued series of hearings and court filings that increase the anger and frustration level on both sides.

A second group going south is men looking to encourage and guide escaped slaves to freedom.  This very dangerous activity results in many mass escapes, some well armed, pitched battles and court cases.  This is an amazing look at personal bravery and great risk to fight a moral wrong.

This is a history of legal actions, raids, hearings, riots and small desperate battles.  It is a very personal series of events that together built the political battles of the times.  The author is an excellent writer.  This large canvass is put into an understandable logical story where each series of incidents leads to the next.  We come to understand why the South fought for the Fugitive Slave Law and why John Brown could think, his raid just might work.  The author is very fair to both sides, presenting the facts and their positions without moralizing or injecting modern ideas.  This is a unique book and one that is necessary read if you want to understand politics prior to the war.


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