National Disfranchisement of Colored People

Martin R. Delany

The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States

1852

We give below the Act of Congress, known as the “Fugitive Slave Law,” for the benefit of the reader, as there are thousands of the American people of all classes who have never read the provisions of this enactment; and consequently, have no conception of its enormity. We had originally intended, also to have inserted here, the Act of Congress of 1793, but since this Bill includes all the provisions of that Act, in fact, although called a “supplement” is a substitute, de facto, it would be superfluous; therefore, we insert the Bill alone, with explanations following:

AN ACT To Amend and Supplementary to the Act, Entitled, “An Act Respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons Escaping From the Service of Their Masters,” Approved February 12, 1793. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the persons who have been, or may hereafter be appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress by the circuit courts of the United States, and who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of the peace or other magistrate of any of the United States may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offence against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning or bailing the same under and by virtue of the thirty third section of the act of the twenty fourth of September, seventeen hundred and eighty nine, entitled “An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States,” shall be and are hereby authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the superior court of each organized territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgements of bail and affidavit, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which is now possessed by the circuit courts of the United States; and all commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the superior court of any organized territory of the United States shall possess all the powers and exercise all the duties conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the circuit courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Sec. 3 And be it further enacted, That the circuit courts of the United States, and the superior courts of each organized territory of the United States, shall from time to time enlarge the number of commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable faculties to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the circuit and district courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several States, and the judges of the superior courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in term time and vacation; and shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or territory from which such persons have escaped or fled.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant or other process when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars to the use of such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the circuit or district court for the district of such marshal; and after arrest of such fugitive by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody, under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted, for the benefit of such claimant for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or district whence he escaped; and the better to enable the said commissioners when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently, in conformity with the requirements of the constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within their counties respectively, to appoint in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time to execute all such warrants and their process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties; with an authority to such commissioners, or to persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to insure a faithful observance of the clause of the constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of the act; and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that person; and said warrants shall run and be executed by said officers anywhere in the State within which they are issued.

Sec. 6 And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged, and certified under the seal of some legal office or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking and causing such person to be taken forthwith before such court, judge or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath, and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory from whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first section mentioned shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped and shall prevent all molestation of said person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.

Sec. 7 And be it further enacted That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid; or shall rescue or attempt to rescue such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant his or her agent or attorney or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the district court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction if committed within any one of the organized territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt in any of the district or territorial courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.

Sec. 8 And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said district and territorial courts, shall be paid for their services the like fees as may be allowed to them for similar services in other cases, and where such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed fugitives may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in the whole by such claimant his agent or attorney; and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case upon delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in the whole by such claimant, his agent or attorney, and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case upon delivery of the said certificate to the claimant his or her agent or attorney or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination to be paid in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued by such commissioners for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as aforesaid shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest and take before any such commissioner as aforesaid at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them such as attending to the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination of such commissioner; and in general for performing such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county as near as may be practicable and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys whether such supposed fugitive from service or labor be ordered to be delivered to such claimants by the final determination of such commissioner or not.

Sec. 9 And be it further enacted That upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will be rescued by force from his or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the States in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State whence he fled and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such forces and to retain them in his service so long as circumstance may require; the said officer and his assistants, while so employed to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed the same expenses as are now allowed by law for the transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.

Sec. 10 And be it further enacted, That when any person held to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the District of Columbia shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof, in vacation and make satisfactory proof to such court, or judge, in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made of the matter so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be; and a transcript of such record authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State, Territory, or District in which the person so escaping may be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner or other officer, authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up shall be held and take to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape and that the service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence, if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant. And the said court commissioner, judge or other person authorized by this act to grant certificates to claimants of fugitives, shall upon t he production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the State or Territory from which he escaped. Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid; but in its absence, the claim shall be heard and determined upon other satisfactory proofs competent in law.

Howell Cobb , Speaker of the House of Representatives 

William R King, President of the Senate, pro tempore Approved September 18, 1850

MILLARD FILLMORE, President of the United States

The most prominent provisions of the Constitution of the United States, and those which form the fundamental basis of personal security, are they which provide that every person shall be secure in their person and property: that no person may be deprived of liberty without due process of law, and that for crime or misdemeanor; that there may be no process of law that shall work corruption of blood. By corruption of blood is meant, that process by which a person is <>degraded and deprived of rights common to the enfranchised citizen (of the rights of an elector, and of eligibility to the office of a representative of the people; in a word, that no person nor their posterity may ever be debased beneath the level of the recognised basis of American citizenship. This debasement and degradation is “corruption of blood,” politically understood) a legal acknowledgement of inferiority of birth.

Heretofore, it ever has been denied that the United States recognised or knew any difference between the people that the Constitution makes no distinction, but includes in its provisions all the people alike. This is not true, and certainly is blind absurdity in us at least, who have suffered the dread consequences of this delusion, not now to see it.

By the provisions of this bill, the colored people of the United States are positively degraded beneath the level of the whites, are made liable at any time, in any place, and under all circumstances to be arrested, and upon the claim of any white person, without the privilege, even of making a defence, sent into endless bondage. Let no visionary nonsense about habeas corpus, or a fair trial, deceive us; there are no such rights granted in this bill, and except where the commissioner is too ignorant to understand, when reading it, or too stupid to enforce it when he does understand, there is no earthly chance, no hope under heaven for the colored person who is brought before one of these officers of the law. Any leniency that may be expected must proceed from the whims or caprices of the magistrate. In fact, it is optional with them, and our rights and liberty entirely at their disposal.

We are slaves in the midst of freedom, waiting patiently and unconcernedly, indifferently, and stupidly, for masters to come and lay claim to us, trusting to their generosity, whether or not they will own us and carry us into endless bondage.

The slave is more secure than we; he knows who holds the heel upon his bosom, we know not the wretch who may grasp us by the throat. His master may be a man of some conscientious scruples; ours may be unmerciful. Good or bad, mild or harsh, easy or hard, lenient or severe, saint or satan, whenever that master demands any one of us, even our affectionate wives and darling little children, we must go into slavery. There is no alternative. The will of the man who sits in judgment on our liberty, is the law. To him is given all power to say, whether or not we have a right to enjoy freedom. This is the power over the slave in the South. This is now extended to the North. The will of the man who sits in judgment over us in the law; because it is explicitly provided that the decision of the commissioner shall be final, from which there can be no appeal.

The freed man of the South is even more secure than the freeborn of the North because such persons usually have their records in the slave states, bringing their “papers” with them; and the slave holders will be faithful to their own acts. The Northern freeman knows no records; he despises the “papers.”

Depend upon no promised protection of citizens in any quarter. Their own property and liberty are jeopardised and they will not sacrifice them for us. This we may not expect them to do.

Besides there are no people who ever lived, love their country and obey their laws as the Americans.

Their country is their Heaven, the Laws their Scriptures, and the decrees of their Magistrates obeyed as the fiat of God. It is the most consummate delusion and misdirected confidence to depend upon them for protection; and for a moment suppose even our children safe while walking in the streets among them.

A people capable of originating and sustaining such a law as this are not the people to whom we are willing to entrust our liberty at discretion.

What can we do? What shall we do? This is the great and important question: Shall we submit to be dragged like brutes before heartless men and sent into degradation and bondage? Shall we fly, or shall we resist? Ponder well and reflect.

A learned jurist of the United States(Chief Justice John Gibson of Pennsylvania) lays down this as a fundamental right in the United States that: “Every man’s house is his castle, and he has the right to defend it unto the taking of life, against any attempt to enter it against his will, except for crime,” by well authenticated process.

But we have no such right. It was not intended for us, any more than any other provision of the law, intended for the protection of Americans. The policy is against us, it is useless to contend against it.

This is the law of the land and must be obeyed and we candidly advise that it is useless for us to contend against it. To suppose its repeal is to anticipate an overthrow of the Confederative Union; and we must be allowed an expression of opinion, when we say, that candidly we believe, the existence of the Fugitive Slave Lawnecessary to the continuance of the National Compact. This Law is the foundation of the Compromise. Remove it, and the consequences are easily determined. We say necessary to the continuance of the National Compact: certainly we will not be understood as meaning that the enactment of such a Law was really necessary, or as favoring in the least this political monstrosity of the THIRTY FIRST CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; surely not at all, but we speak logically and politically, leaving morality and right out of the question, taking our position on the acknowledged popular basis of American policy; arguing from premises to conclusion. We must abandon all vague theory, and look at facts as they really are; viewing ourselves in our true political position in the body politic. To imagine ourselves to be included in the body politic, except by express legislation is at war with common sense, and contrary to fact. Legislation, the administration of the laws of the country, and the exercise of rights by the people, all prove to the contrary. We are politically, not of them, but aliens to the laws and political privileges of the country. These are truths, fixed facts, that quaint theory and exhausted moralising are impregnable to, and fall harmlessly before.

It is useless to talk about our rights in individual states: we can have no rights there as citizens, not recognized in our common country; as the citizens of one State, we are entitled to all the rights and privileges of an American citizen in all the States, the nullity of the one necessarily implying the nullity of the other. These provisions then do not include the colored people of the United States; since there is no power left in them, whereby they may protect us as their own citizens. Our descent, by the laws of the country, stamps us with inferiority, upon us has this law worked corruption of blood. We are in the hands of the General Government, and no state can rescue us. The Army and Navy stand at the service of our enslavers, the whole force of which, may at any moment, even in the dead of night, as has been done, when sunk in the depth of slumber, called out for the purpose of forcing our mothers, sisters, wives, and children, or ourselves, into hopeless servitude, there to weary out a miserable life, a relief from which death would be hailed with joy. Heaven and earth, God and Humanity!, are not these sufficient to arouse the most worthless among mankind, of whatever descent, to a sense of their true position? These laws apply to us, shall we not be aroused?

What then shall we do? “What is the remedy?” is the important question to be answered.

This important inquiry we shall answer, and find a remedy in when treating of the emigration of the colored people.

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