Tag Archives: civil war

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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I looked at him good

From a US Senate investigation, Reports of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, concerning the Fort Pillow Massacre, which I had never heard of until today.

Question. Did you see any buildings burned?

Answer. I staid in the woods all day Wednesday. I was there Thursday and looked at the buildings. I saw a great deal left that they did not have a chance to burn up. I saw a white man burned up who was nailed up against the house.

Question. A private or an officer?

Answer. An officer; I think it was a lieutenant in the Tennessee cavalry.

Question. How was he nailed?

Answer. Through his hands and feet right against the house.

Question. Was his body burned?

Answer. Yes, sir; burned all over—I looked at him good.

And this:

Question. We have heard rumors that some of these persons were buried alive; did you hear anything about that?

Answer. I have two in the hospital here who were buried alive.

Question. Both colored men?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How did they escape?

Answer. One of them I have not conversed with personally, the other I have. He was thrown into a pit, as he states, with a great many others, white and black, several of whom were alive; they were all buried up together. He lay on the outer edge, but his head was nearer the surface; he had one well hand, and with that hand he was able to work a place through which he could breathe, and in that way he got his head out; he lay there for some twenty-four hours, and was finally taken out by somebody. The others, next to him, were buried so deep that they could not get out, and died.


The irrevocable change brought about by the Civil War

From the Harvard reunion book entry of Edward Learoyd Cutter ’06, a coal dealer in Boston, concerning his vacation trips to Charleston, SC:

We have been extremely fortunate in knowing a few of the old plantation families, and in having been included in some of their good times, which has given us a viewpoint that few Northerners can ever have.  When one sees and understands a little the irrevocable change brought about by the Civil War, one cannot escape the sensation of guiltiness for having been born a Yankee.

Was this a respectable view to assert in public in 1931?  If so, when it it start being respectable to talk this way (surely it took some time after the end of the war) and when did it stop?

Possibly relevant is the testimony of Cutter’s classmate, Floyd Andrews Brown, of Deposit, NY:

I am now in the my thirteenth year as clerk of the Board of Education, a matter in which I take some pride by reason of having survived the period when every other elective or appointive officer in the village, township, and school district was at least in sympathy with, if not an active member of, the Ku Klux Klan.  This domination of a community by the Klan, now happily past, is a fair measure of the benightedness of the section of rural New York in which I seem fated to spend my declining years.

Aside, directed mainly at Harvard coevals:  Whatever happened to Bridget Kerrigan?

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