A People Divided
"The ground which a colored man occupies in this country is, every inch of it, sternly disputed." Frederick Douglass

Social, political, religious and judicial powers rooted themselves firmly on one side or the other of the slavery debate during the mid-19th century, embroiling the entire country in controversy.

Frederick Douglass

Underground Railroad
The metaphoric name given to the secret network of people and places that helped runaway slaves from the south escape to the free northern states and Canada prior to the Civil War--the Underground Railroad. Though the name of this clandestine operation had no connection with any actual railroads, several theories exist as to the origin of the name.

The first is as follows: Tice Davis, a runaway slave, fled from Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River with a slave catcher in pursuit. Davis vanished after crossing the river. The catcher, stumped at his failure to spot Davis, exclaimed as he stood on the river bank within earshot of bystanders, "it's as if he's gone off on some underground railroad." The name caught on as word of Davis' escape spread throughout the South.

"The Underground Railroad" by Charles T. Webber, 1893

Another potential origin is a cartoon, published in an abolitionist newspaper in Chicago in 1844, which depicted a "Liberty Line, "a railroad car full of smiling fugitives on their way to Canada. Regardless of their origins, railroad terms and jargon became the descriptive elements of choice for abolitionists. "Conductors" were guides like Harriet Tubman, while "Station Masters" included people such as Thomas Garrett and William Still whose homes were safe houses or "stations".

Because of the secretive nature of the Underground Railroad, very few records were kept detailing passengers and routes. Many records were destroyed after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, by abolitionists fearing retribution. It is estimated, however, that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 slaves were escorted safely to freedom on the "railroad".

The Value of a Human Life
The average slave was worth what a car would be worth today. Labor was expensive for slave owners to lose. This explains why slave hunting and catching were big businesses. Individuals and gangs roamed border states such as Delaware and Maryland preying upon both runaways and legitimately free black people. Trafficking in human misery, these unscrupulous bounty hunters sold their captives to the deep south. Runaways who were not heard from for two months were often considered dead by their families. They had either been killed in the process of fleeing or sold far away never to be heard from again.

One of the most blood curdling legends involving the Underground Railroad revolves around the infamous Patty Cannon. Living in a house said to have straddled the border between Delaware and Maryland during the early 19th century, Cannon made a career of capturing and smuggling free and innocent black people and selling them into slavery. The gang she and several family members operated gained notoriety in the region for its cruelty, violence and ruthless dedication to its odious crimes. Cannon and the Johnson gang are said to have shackled their captives in Patty's attic or to trees on a small island in the Nanticoke River near the present-day sight of the Woodland Ferry in Seaford, Delaware. Cannon, jailed in 1829 on four counts of murder, committed suicide (according to legend) in the jail in the Georgetown Courthouse's basement. It is thought that her remains were buried in a nearby Potter's Field with one important exception: what is thought to be Patty Cannon's skull is now stored in a hatbox at the Dover Public Library!

A member of the movement in the United States to abolish slavery was termed an abolitionist. The resistance movement recognized as the Underground Railroad was formed over time to help slaves escape to freedom by abolitionists. The creation of anti-slavery groups (started in 1833 in Philadelphia) and writings such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and abolitionist newspapers, spread the word to an ignorant public about the moral and ethical dilemma of slavery and the horrors of its reality.

Dinah Mendenhall

Member of the Society of Friends, a religious group founded by George Fox in 17th century England. The Quakers adhere to pacifist and humanitarian principles and reject the idea of dogmatic, organized religion. Believing that God is within each human being, Quakers hold meetings during which members sit quietly or speak their own minds rather than listen to a sermon. Many Quakers on the eastern line of the Underground Railroad participated because of their Quaker value system. It is, however, a misnomer that all Quakers were abolitionists; not all Quakers were involved in the Underground Railroad. In fact, a schism occurred within the Quaker establishment during the 19th century as a result of polarized views of activism. Orthodox Quakers relied on a conservative, gradual approach toward emancipation while Hicksites (after Elias Hicks, a New York Quaker) aggressively and actively pursued freedom for slaves.

Isaac Mendenhall

Missouri Compromise
The 1820 agreement adopted by Congress to resolve the question of Missouri's entrance into the Union as a slave or free state. At the time, there were 22 states in the union with the number of slave and free states evenly divided at 11. Missouri would upset the balance. Senators Henry Clay and Jesse B. Thomas were largely responsible for Missouri's eventual admittance as a slave state with the following clause: that the remaining territory of the Louisiana Purchase (North of 36 30' latitude, Missouri's southern boundary) be considered free.

Kansas-Nebraska Act
Bill proposed by Illinois senator Stephen Douglas in 1854 to organize the Nebraska Territory. Initially designed to expand development of the West by structuring railroad systems, the bill created controversy as a result of the need to determine the status of Kansas and Nebraska in terms of slavery. The decision to allow the states to determine their own status by way of popular sovereignty ignored the Missouri Compromise (slavery would have been barred in Kansas and Nebraska under the Missouri Compromise) and brought about the disintegration of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party. The idea of popular sovereignty caused people on both sides of the argument to attempt to galvanize support which resulted in fierce political struggle, violence and "bleeding Kansas".

Compromise of 1850
A resolution designed in 1850 to keep abolitionist northerners satisfied while trying not to alienate the South. Originally proposed by Henry Clay and carried out by Stephen Douglas after Clay's sudden death, the Compromise proposed four major points: California would enter the Union as a free state, popular sovereignty would be established in Utah and New Mexico, the Texas border was settled, Washington D.C. would abolish the slave trade but would allow slavery itself and finally, the new Fugitive Slave Act was passed into law.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Law passed in 1850 to render the northern states unsafe for escaped slaves. If an escaped slave made his way to a northern state and found himself encountered there by hunters or catchers, he could legally be taken back to slavery in spite of his residence in a free state because of this overriding federal law. Free citizens of free states could also be legally conscripted to aid in a slave's return to slavery. This law galvanized the abolitionist movement in the north.

Anti-slavery Poster
Dred Scott Case
An intelligent slave who could read and write, Dred Scott sued his owner on the grounds that his temporary residence within a territory in which slavery was banned (as declared by the Missouri Compromise) made him a free man. Presented before the Supreme Court in 1857, Scott's case failed on several grounds, according to Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney ( the same judge who had presided over Delaware Station Master, Thomas Garrett's trial in 1848). First, as a Negro, Scott was not an actual citizen and therefore did not have the right to sue his owner in a federal court. Moreover, Congress' ban on slavery in the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Congress lacked the power to keep slavery out of any territory in the United States. The decision in the Dred Scott Case was highly controversial and divisive.

John Brown

Harper's Ferry Incident
On October 16, 1859, John Brown and an army of 22 men raided a federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia in an attempted rebellion against slavery. A brave, but over-ambitious attack that hoped to inspire an uprising among Southern slaves, the raid at Harper's Ferry was foiled. Brown was captured, put to trial, and hanged. Brown had been in contact, according to some scholars, with key figures of the Underground Railroad prior to his death. Intending to utilize the railroad as a supply line of sorts for his socio-political action, Brown never saw this goal realized.
As a result of Brown's capture, Station Masters began to destroy records and evidence of meetings with Brown and clandestine activity in general.

Emancipation Proclamation
Declaration signed on January 1, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln that abolished slavery in the rebel states.

Despite the fact that President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, the news did not reach slaves in Texas and outlying territories and states until much later. "Juneteenth", or June 19, 1865 marked the date when many slaves first learned that they had been freed (contemporary scholars debate the true effectiveness of the Emancipation--whether or not and how many slaves it actually freed). Today, African Americans and others observe this special celebration of freedom throughout the country. For more information on this historic observance, contact www.juneteenth.com.

13th Amendment
Adopted in 1865, the 13th Amendment banned slavery in the United States. It reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

15th Amendment
Adopted in 1870, the 15th Amendment gave black Americans the right to vote - which effectively made them citizens of the country for the first time. It reads "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Jim Crow Laws
Archaic laws which governed the lives of black Americans in southern states after the abolition of slavery. Many of these laws were exercises in social control over black citizens. Segregation, intimidation, Ku Klux Klan activity and lynchings were the rule until the 1960s in some areas.


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