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Fugitive slave law

  • "Practical Illustration of the Fugitive Slave Law"
The Fugitive Slave Law was part of the Compromise of 1850 and was unpopular in many Northern states because it required local and federal officials to return fugitives from slavery to their owners. This cartoon ridiculed Secretary of State Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts, for supporting the law as part of the compromise.
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"Practical Illustration of the Fugitive Slave Law"

"Practical Illustration of the Fugitive Slave Law," Broadside, American Cartoon Print Filing Series, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress describes this as a satire on the antagonism between Northern abolitionists on the one hand, and Secretary of State Daniel Webster and other supporters of enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Here abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison [left] holds a slave woman in one arm and points a pistol toward a burly slave catcher mounted on the back of Daniel Webster. The slave catcher, wielding a noose and manacles, is expensively dressed, and may represent the federal marshals or commissioners authorized by the act (and paid) to apprehend and return fugitive slaves to their owners. Behind Garrison a black man also aims a pistol toward the group on the right, while another seizes a cowering slaveholder by the hair and is about to whip him saying, "It's my turn now Old Slave Driver."

Garrison: "Don't be alarmed Susanna, you're safe enough."

Slave catcher: "Don't back out Webster, if you do we're ruined."

Webster, holding the Constitution: "This, though Constitutional, is extremely disagreeable."

Man holding volumes of Law & Gospel: "We will give these fellows a touch of South Carolina."

Man with quill and ledger: "I goes in for Law & Order."

A fallen slaveholder: "This is all your fault Webster."

In the background is a Temple of Liberty flying two flags, one reading "A day, an hour, of virtuous Liberty, is worth an age of Servitude" and the other, "All men are born free & equal."

The print may be the work of New York artist Edward Williams Clay, but it is more likely that the print was produced in Boston, a center of bitter opposition in 1850 and 1851 to the Fugitive Slave Act.