Friday, September 16, 2011

Incendiary Documents

That slavery was a "hot" topic in America in the mid-nineteenth century is beyond debate. Why, even terms of the day were heated. Those radicals that called for the secession of the southern states in order to protect their rights in slave property were called "fire-eaters." And, abolitionist radicals that agitated for the freedom of the slaves were labeled as "incendiary."

While doing some research recently I ran into a law passed in Kentucky on March 30, 1860 that banned the writing, printing, or circulating of "incendiary documents" in the state. This law was passed at the same time that Kentucky enacted laws to reorganize the state militia and limit the rights of free men and women of color; only a few short months after John Brown was hanged. It is easy to understand that fear of a John Brown type act in the Commonwealth motivated these laws. After Harper's Ferry it was felt that the safety of the public was in jeopardy and anything or anyone that threatened that sacred safety should be removed, banned or restricted in the state.

The law stated, "that if any free person write or print, or cause to be written or printed, any book or other thing, with intent to advise or incite negroes in this State to rebel or make insurrection, or inculcating resistance to the rights and property of masters in their slaves, or if he shall, with intent to aid the purposes of any such book or writing, knowingly circulate the same, he shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than one, nor more than five years."

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