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Abolitionism And The Underground Railroad In Massachusetts.

2542 words - 10 pages

Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in MassachusettsMassachusetts was one of the prominent northern states which sought freedom for blacks subject to the oppression of slavery in the south in the nineteenth century. Men such as Wendell Philips and Samuel J. May of Boston epitomized the abolitionist cause in the north, not only by speaking out against the injustice of slavery but by harboring these very slaves in shelters in and around Massachusetts. The state served as a sort of buffer ground for escaped slaves seeking freedom and justice--New Bedford and Boston were primary stops for thousands of northbound escapees. Of the freedom offered by Massachusetts, African American Reverend W. M. Mitchell wrote:It is a glorious thing to gaze for the first time upon a land, where a poor Slave, flying from a so-called land of justice and liberty, would in a moment find his fetters broken, his shackles loosed, and whatever he was in the land of Washington, beneath the shadow of Bunker's Hill, or even Plymouth Rock, here he becomes a man and a brother.1These stops were part of a larger network run by abolitionists called the Underground Railroad, a phrase coined by a southern slaveholder who noted that the slaves seemed to conceal themselves so well and transport themselves so efficiently toward the northern free states. Controversies, however, abounded amidst the struggles; violent disputes erupted over the issues and difficulties posed by the oppressive Fugitive Slave Act. The state of Massachusetts played a prominent role in the abolitionist movement and served as a key station on the Underground Railroad.Slavery in America traces back its origins to the eighteenth century triangular slave trade. This system was composed of three parts: European goods were traded for African slaves; African slaves were sold in the Americas for plantation crops; plantation crops were transported for sale and consumption in Europe.2 Britain played the most significant role in the development of slavery in America, however. "The American Revolution and the years following excited new expectations that slavery must soon dwindle in strength and prestige. Such actual plans for ending it as maintaining high tariffs on the slave trade, or permitting slaves to buy their own freedom, were impractical."2 The battle for "freedom" against Britain proved victorious, yet Britain's hand of oppression seemed to have left its mark; America could not rid itself of these undemocratic principles. Moreover, slavery had few opponents in England in the past centuries, and thus this philosophy perhaps transferred over to the new world with the colonists.The Fugitive Slave Laws were enacted in February of 1793. The act entailed that "aiding runaway slaves became a federal offense" and "[a]nyone who harbored an escaped slave or prevented his or her arrest could be fined $500," a considerable sum of money for the time period. In 1850 the fine increased to $1000, a staggering number for almost...

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