Such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin

I’ve lived in Wisconsin for more than a decade and had never heard of Joshua Glover.  That’s not as it should be!

Glover was a slave who escaped Missouri in 1852 and settled in Racine, a free man.  He found a job and settled down into a new life.  Two years later, his old master found out where he was, and, licensed by the Fugitive Slave Act, came north to claim his property.  The U.S. marshals seized Glover and locked him in the Milwaukee courthouse. (Cathedral Square Park is where that courthouse stood.)   A Wisconsin court issued a writ holding the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional, and demanding that Glover be given a trial, but the federal officers refused to comply.  So Sherman Booth, an abolitionist newspaperman from Waukesha, gathered a mob and broke Glover out.  Eventually he made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Booth spent years tangled in court, thanks to his role in the prison break.  Wisconsin, thrilled by its defiance of the hated law, bloomed with abolitionist fervency.  Judge Abram Daniel Smith declared that Wisconsin, a sovereign state, would never accept federal interference within its borders:

“They will never consent that a slave-owner, his agent, or an officer of the United States, armed with process to arrest a fugitive from service, is clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state; that their own high prerogative writ of habeas corpus shall be annulled, their authority defied, their officers resisted, the process of their own courts contemned, their territory invaded by federal force, the houses of their citizens searched, the sanctuary or their homes invaded, their streets and public places made the scenes of tumultuous and armed violence, and state sovereignty succumb–paralyzed and aghast–before the process of an officer unknown to the constitution and irresponsible to its sanctions. At least, such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin, without meeting as stern remonstrance and resistance as I may be able to interpose, so long as her people impose upon me the duty of guarding their rights and liberties, and maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of their state.”

The sentiment, of course, was not so different from that the Southern states would use a few years later to justify their right to buy and sell human beings.  By the end of the 1850s, Wisconsin’s governor Alexander Randall would threaten to secede from the Union should slavery not be abolished.

When Booth was arrested by federal marshals in 1860, state assemblyman Benjamin Hunkins of New Berlin went even further, introducing a bill declaring war on the United States in protest.  The speaker of the assembly declared the bill unconstitutional and no vote was taken.  (This was actually the second time Hunkins tried to declare war on the federal government; as a member of the Wisconsin territorial assembly in 1844, he became so outraged over the awarding of the Upper Peninsula to Michigan that he introduced an amendment declaring war on Great Britain, Illinois, Michigan, and the United States!)

Milwaukee has both a Booth Street and a Glover Avenue; and they cross.

Madison has a Randall Street (and a Randall School, and Camp Randall Stadium) but no Glover Street and no Booth Street.  Should it?

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    States’ Rights has always been a double-edged sword …

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