Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kentucky Praises the Fugitive Slave Law

I guess I could wait a couple of days to make my first real return post, but as the old saying goes, "there's no time like the present."

I'll admit that I have been holding this one for quite a while. When I found it, it struck me as particularly intriguing, and still does after reading it over a number of times. 

This short article ran in the October 15, 1861 issue of the Louisville Daily Journal. To provide some context, the Kentucky legislature had decided to remain a part of the Union only a month before. Much of that decision, in my humble opinion, had to do with the commonwealth's geographical location. Had Kentucky been in Tennessee's location, it may well have done as Tennessee did and belatedly seceded. However, at this time Kentucky had the third most number of slaveholders (as evidenced by the 1860 census) and although those owners possessed only about four or five slaves each on average, most Kentucky owners were as much wedded to the institution as any in any slave state. Kentucky, though, was in a geographical location that made secession less practical for the security of their human property.

The Ohio River boundary was viewed by Kentuckians as an insufficient barrier to keep their valuable chattels in place. The state thought it more practical to remain in the Union where there were guarantees (1850 Fugitive Slave Law) to reclaim any absconded human property. If Kentucky had seceded, they would not have been able to request the return of their slaves that ran away to free states. They would have been in much the same situation as they were when they attempted to get their slaves back that had made it to Canada. 

I have come across numerous advertisements that mentioned slaves had been captured in Indiana and Ohio and returned to Kentucky jails to await their owners to claim them. It is true that Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois were all "free" states, but that did not mean that the majority of their citizens did not also feel obligated to uphold the rights of their fellow (Kentucky) citizens despite their differences in labor practices. There were healthy abolitionist and Underground Railroad networks in all three states, but those individuals that supported them were a small minority.

In this particular and successful instance the Kentucky newspaper praised Indiana's and the Federal government's efforts to return a runaway. The law and order nature of the whole operation is especially emphasized. It reassured the reader that friends in the free states would "defend the rights of Kentucky."

I was curious about the Louisville owner mentioned in the article so I looked him up in the 1860 census. E.L. Huffman was listed as living in Louisville's Fourth Ward. He was noted as a 50 years old "Pork Packer" and lived with his wife Kate (32 years old) and son Abram (10 years old) and 4 other borders. Like most Kentucky slave owners Huffman only held a handful of slaves. Huffman owned three. One was a 55 year old male, who was described as black, the others were a 60 year old black female and a 13 year old mulatto boy. Included was what appears to be a hired slave; a 30 year old mulatto man. I say "appears to be" a hired slave as there is a notation that looks to be "Empld" (employed) next to his listing. So, which of these men was the runaway that is mentioned in the article? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would contend that the best choices would be the 30 year old employed man or the 13 year old boy, as they would fit the profile of the typical runaway more than the 50 year old man.

Even after President Lincoln changed the goals of the Civil War with his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (released almost a year later) many in the free states continued to believe that runaways should be returned to owners living in loyal yet also slave states. It would not be until the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in December of 1865, that Kentucky slave owners could no longer legally demand or reclaim their enslaved individuals.   


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