Item #368452 Fugitive Slaves' Appeal!! To the Clergy of Massachusetts: Adopted at a Meeting of Fugitive Slaves held in Boston, Oct. 5, 1850 ... [With the text of the Fugitive Slave Act beneath]. Broadside, William Lloyd Garrison.
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"...a Bill to be resisted, disobeyed and trampled under foot, at all hazards..."

Fugitive Slaves' Appeal!! To the Clergy of Massachusetts: Adopted at a Meeting of Fugitive Slaves held in Boston, Oct. 5, 1850 ... [With the text of the Fugitive Slave Act beneath].

Boston: 1850.

Price: $25,000.00


About the item

Broadside. 23-1/2 x 12-3/4 inches. "...a Bill to be resisted, disobeyed and trampled under foot, at all hazards..." Old folds.

Item #368452

On September 18, 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring free states to assist with the capture and return of fugitive slaves. Although the Boston Vigilance Committee was founded in 1841, the passage of the act prompted the revival of the interracial, radical group of white abolitionists and free blacks, dedicated to assisting fugitive slaves, including providing shelter, clothing, money and passage, as well as the harassment of slave catchers in Boston.

On October 5, 1850, the "Friends of Freedom", as they called themselves, met in the African Meeting House (aka Belknap Street Church) with the named organizers including William Nell, as well as Lewis Hayden, Boston’s most prominent black underground railroad leaders. The attendees included not only abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, but fugitive slaves as well. After opening the meeting, a report was given by Nell which included various resolutions, among which was the promise of a sustained fight against the federal government and, if necessary, a militant resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act, a sharp departure from the group's previous non-resistance. They called for a League of Freedom “composed of all those who are ready to resist this law, rescue and protect the slave, at every hazard" as well as a call to the clergymen of the city to do their "Christian duty to the flying fugitives."

After these resolutions, or Declaration of Sentiments as the printed broadside called them, various speeches were made opposing the Fugitive Slave Act, including one by Garrison, who "in appreciation of their resolution invoking the religious sentiment in behalf of the poor fugitive" submitted an Address to the Clergy, which was read "and produced a marked sensation upon the meeting." The text of the Appeal, written from the perspective of a fugitive slave, beseeching the clergymen of Massachusetts to oppose the Act, is as follows:

"We, the trembling, proscribed and hunted fugitives from chattel slavery,–now scattered through the various towns and villages of Massachusetts, and momentarily liable to be seized by the strong arm of government, and hurried back to stripes, torture, and bondage, ‘one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,’—most humbly, importunately, and by the mercies of Christ, implore you, at this distressing crisis, to lift up your voices like a trumpet against the Fugitive Slave Bill, recently adopted by Congress, and designed for our sure and immediate re-enslavement.
You claim, in a special sense, to be witnesses to God—the ambassadors of Him who came to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and opening of the prison to them that are
bound. As you would be clear of the blood of all men, it is for you to give to the down-trodden and the oppressed your deepest sympathies, and to hold up to reprobation those who ‘frame mischief by a law.’ It is for you to declare the supremacy of the eternal law of God over all human enactments, whether men will hear or forbear.
After years of unrequited labor, of enforced depredation, of unutterable and inconceivable misery, we have succeeded in making our escape from the modern house of bondage, and are now attempting to lead quiet and peaceable lives in this Commonwealth, and by expanding our faculties and cultivating our moral nature, to ‘glorify God in our bodies and spirits, which are his.’ By the recent law of Congress, it is made a highly criminal act to shelter us from the slave-hunter, or to refuse to participate in our capture, at the command of the appointed Commissioners.
Now, therefore, by the solemn injunction of a Christian apostle, ‘Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them,’ we implore you, from your pulpits, to denounce this iniquitous law!
By the command of Christ, ‘Whatsoever you would that should do to you, do ye even so to them,’ denounce the law!
By all the horrors and iniquities compressed into that system of slavery, which Wesley has just styled ‘the sum of all villanies,’ denounce the law!
By the cherished memories of Pilgrim Fathers and Revolutionary Sires, denounce the law!
By your warm approval of your country’s Declaration of Independence, denounce the law!
By your belief in the scriptural affirmation, that by one God we are all created, and that he ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth,’ denounce the law!
By all the woes and warnings pronounced by the prophets against those who refuse to hide the outcasts and betray him that wandereth—who decree unrighteous decrees, and write grievousness which they have proscribed, to turn aside the need from judgment—denounce the law!
Thus will you exalt the Christian religion, oppose the mightiest obstacle that stands in the way of human redemption, exert such a moral influence that shall break the rod of the oppressor, secure for yourselves the blessings of those who are ready to perish, and hear the thrilling declaration in the great day of judgment, ‘Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me."

Shortly after the meeting two broadsides were published: a Declaration of Sentiments of the Colored Citizens of Boston and the present Fugitive Slaves' Appeal to the Clergy of Massachusetts. Both broadsides include Garrison's Appeal, the former with the text below the Declaration of Sentiments; the latter (i.e. the present) without the Declaration of Sentiments but with the full text of the Fugitive Slave Act below the Appeal. The text of the Act is derived from a printing in an issue of the Washington Union and is preceded by the line: "It is a Bill to be resisted, disobeyed and trampled under foot, at all hazards." Following the text of the Act is a summary of its ramifications in eight numbered paragraphs, preceded by the note: "Look now as some of the villanies that will be perpetuated under this unchristian law."

Both the Declaration and the Appeal would be published within the October 11, 1850 issue of The Liberator. The following week, on October 14, a mass meeting would be held at Faneuil Hall, organized by the Vigilance Committee, which included Frederick Douglass among its speakers.

Both broadsides are very rare. The Declaration of Sentiments broadside was printed by George C. Jenks at his 86 Hanover Street shop; the present Appeal has no imprint and is from a different setting of type. Although possible it was also printed by Jenks, given its focus on the nonviolent aspect of the meeting, it seems possible to have been printed by Garrison at the offices of the Liberator. We note only two examples in OCLC, at Amherst and the Newberry Library. No other examples appear in the auction records.