Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stanley Harrold's "Border War"

Stanley Harrold is professor of history at South Carolina State University. Among his recent books are Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C. 1828-1865 and The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War, and reported the following:
Until I was asked to write this essay, I had never heard of Ford Madox Ford’s theory that reading page ninety-nine of any book will “reveal the quality of the whole.” But I am pleased to report that this is true of my book Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War.

The book is about the struggle over slavery along the North-South border during the century prior to the American Civil War. On one side of the border were the free-labor states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. On the other side were the slave-labor states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. Slaveholders, hired slave catchers, those who kidnapped free African-Americans into slavery, and some law officers fought on behalf of slavery. Slaves, free African Americans, other law officers, and increasing numbers of sympathetic white northerners fought for freedom. I portray the violent cross-border incidents that resulted and analyze how they contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

On page ninety-nine I discuss two aspects of this conflict. The first is the price paid by those northern law officers who helped slave catchers. In October 1841, for example, Pittsburgh police helped two Virginians recapture three fugitive slaves. In response, the Western Press, of Mercer, Pennsylvania, called the officers “the ... northern abettors, the sneaking jackals of slavery, the hireling whippers in of the man thieves of the South.” The Press demanded that they be “marked by the virtuous community.” In March 1846 one Ohio justice of the peace found himself not only marked but in jail because he had issued an arrest warrant for an alleged fugitive slave.

The second aspect is the attitude of abolitionists concerning forceful resistance to slavery’s defenders. Historians often portray abolitionists as nonviolent. But when mobs in the Lower North attacked masters, kidnappers, and legal authorities, even Quaker abolitionists justified the mobs’ actions. In some cases, abolitionists along the sectional border relaxed their commitment to pacifism. In other cases, they embraced traditional Christian endorsement of defensive violence.

Even though page ninety-nine deals with reactions to violence rather than the violence itself, it reflects Border War’s major theme and reveals its impact.
Read more about Border War at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue