Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Border War

Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Border War
    Book Description:

    During the 1840s and 1850s, a dangerous ferment afflicted the North-South border region, pitting the slave states of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri against the free states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Aspects of this struggle--the underground railroad, enforcement of the fugitive slave laws, mob actions, and sectional politics--are well known as parts of other stories. Here, Stanley Harrold explores the border struggle itself, the dramatic incidents that it comprised, and its role in the complex dynamics leading to the Civil War.Border Warexamines the previously neglected cross-border clash of attitudes and traditions dating many generations back. By the mid-nineteenth century, nowhere else were tensions greater between antislavery and proslavery interests. Nowhere else was there more direct conflict between the forces binding North and South together and those driving them apart. There were mass slave escapes, battles between antislavery and proslavery vigilantes, and fierce resistance in the Border North to the kidnapping of free African Americans. There were also fights throughout the borderlands between fugitive slaves and those attempting to apprehend them. Harrold argues that, during the 1850s, warfare on the Kansas-Missouri line and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, were manifestations of a more pervasive border conflict that helped push the Lower South into secession and helped persuade most of the Border South to stand by the Union.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0388-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Perception of War
    (pp. 1-16)

    “A fierce border war is evidently to be the only protection and hope of the Southern States,” declared theRichmond Enquirer. Physical conflict over slave escapes from Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri into the border free states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois had disillusioned the editor of this influential Virginia newspaper. Shortly after Congress passed the draconian Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, he warned, if “the people of the Northern borders” could not respect the new law, they would face “the law of the sword, the rifle, [and] the tar barrel.” Just as “the people of the Southern borders”...

  5. ONE Early Clashes
    (pp. 17-34)

    On Sunday morning, September 17, 1826, Edward Stone of Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky, and three other slave traders steered their flatboat southwest on the Ohio River. They had a cargo of seventy-five or seventy-six slaves — “males and females, and of various ages”— destined for sale in Mississippi or Louisiana. Having purchased the slaves in Maryland and Kentucky, Stone and his associates anticipated profits on reaching their destination in the Old Southwest. Instead, 100 miles down river from Louisville, twelve of their human cargo attacked them and a white passenger, killed all five, and used weights to sink their bodies in...

  6. TWO Fear and Reaction in the Border South
    (pp. 35-52)

    In 1842 theLouisville Journalpublished an article entitled “Abolitionists Beware — Atrocious Outrage.” Graphically and chillingly, it described how some white border southerners reacted to a supposed northern menace. As the steamboatCorsairmoved “up the Ohio” before dawn on a Saturday in May, someone on board saw a small sailboat heading from Illinois toward Kentucky. Because “there had recently been a number of slaves stolen from Kentucky by the Abolitionists of Illinois,” the steamboat’s captain “hailed” the sailboat, ordering its single occupant to “‘heave to.’” When the “mysterious gentleman” refused to obey, some crew and passengers brought out “guns,...

  7. THREE Southern Aggression in the Lower North
    (pp. 53-71)

    “Along the border line, on both sides of it, there is a set of vicious, degraded, crazy scoundrels, whose sole business it is to arrest fugitives,” declared Charles T. Torrey in 1844. Torrey, who helped slaves escape from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, called his adversaries “border miscreants.” They were, he contended, ignorant, impoverished, and “comparatively harmless,” unless “invested with police offices” or employed by slaveholders “to kidnap some poor fugitive.” One of them, Torrey declared, was a constable — “a low lived creature from Gettysburg, who received $200 for his base services.” A few weeks later, Torrey’s black...

  8. FOUR Interstate Diplomacy
    (pp. 72-93)

    Kentucky governor James Clark announced in December 1838 that he had a “painful and unpleasant but necessary duty” to call attention “to a subject of vast importance to the peace and tranquility of society, as well as to the security of those rights that belong individually to the citizen.” The “infuriated fanaticism” of abolitionists and their “wild and illegal projects” against slavery, he asserted, had brought “this happy land” to “the brink of a fearful convulsion.” Assisted slave escapes, he warned, threatened Kentucky’s entire “north-western boundary,” as abolitionists extended “their operations so far as to mingle, personally” with Kentucky slaves....

  9. FIVE Fighting against Slavery in the Lower North
    (pp. 94-115)

    In December 1844, theTelegraphof Georgetown, Ohio, reported an “affray” between “some Kentucky negro-hunters and a number of abolitionists” at the racially integrated Red Oak settlement. Located west-northwest of Ripley, Georgetown and Red Oak were way stations on the underground railroad in heavily abolitionized Brown County. Colonel Edward Towers, who led the Kentuckians, had learned that two white men, Robert Miller and Absalom King, had taken into their homes six slaves from his Mason County estate. Towers’s party found two of the slaves at Miller’s house. As Miller attempted to protect the slaves, “the incensed Kentuckians” knocked him down...

  10. SIX The Struggle for the Border South
    (pp. 116-137)

    Cassius M. Clay of Lexington, Kentucky, was not, by northern standards, a radical abolitionist. He did not quite advocate immediate emancipation and, although he sympathized with African Americans, he emphasized how slavery prevented nonslaveholding white southerners from advancing politically, economically, and intellectually. Unlike Garrisonian abolitionists, he rejected neither defensive violence nor union with slaveholders. Hewasa slaveholder until 1843. Unlike New York Liberty abolitionists, he advocated neither the universal illegality of slavery nor helping slaves escape. Nevertheless, throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Clay maintained contact with northern abolitionists of all persuasions and enjoyed their support. He gained their admiration...

  11. SEVEN Fighting over the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
    (pp. 138-158)

    At the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society’s December 1850 meeting, Lucretia Mott asked William Elder — a white political abolitionist, journalist, and lecturer — to explain his “views on the subject ofresistanceof the people of color to the Fugitive Law and the Kidnappers.” In reply, Elder observed that “life-taking” was wrong, but he “found a difficulty in applying the highest principle to practical life.” As a white man, he could rely on the law to protect his rights, but African Americans, especially fugitive slaves, could not. “Slavery,” he pointed out to an audience dominated by pacifists, “began in war, in man-hunting on...

  12. EIGHT Pressure on the Border South Increases
    (pp. 159-182)

    The most violent event in Congress’s history occurred on the afternoon of May 22, 1856. Two days earlier, Charles Sumner, a Republican senator from Massachusetts, had delivered his “Crime against Kansas” speech. By “crime” Sumner meant the attempt to extend slavery into the new Kansas Territory, located west of Missouri. But, in the course of his speech, he ridiculed South Carolina and its elderly senior senator, Andrew P. Butler. Among those who heard Sumner speak was Butler’s young cousin Preston Brooks, a South Carolina congressman. After reading over Sumner’s speech, Brooks decided to “chastise” him, as he would a disobedient...

  13. NINE From Border War to Civil War
    (pp. 183-208)

    On October 17, 1859, Governor Henry Wise of Virginia faced a crisis. The day before, John Brown had led a biracial band of nineteen men in capturing the undefended U.S. armory at Harpers Ferry on Virginia’s northern border. Brown and his men, Wise learned, came from the North, trained in western Maryland, had the support of prominent abolitionists, and intended to spark a slave rebellion that would spread throughout the South. They killed four men, took nine prisoners, and confiscated two slaves.

    As wildly exaggerated reports concerning the size of Brown’s force circulated, Wise called out militia units. He led...

    (pp. 209-214)

    In early June 1863, a variety of considerations led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to invade Pennsylvania. Robert E. Lee, who commanded the army, hoped to weaken northern morale, relieve Union pressure on Richmond, cut Washington off from the North, force the Union to pull back troops on the Mississippi River, and encourage Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy. Lee also envisioned a massive foraging expedition to strip the Pennsylvania countryside of horses, cattle, pigs, and produce, and the state’s towns of shoes, clothing, and money. Lee’s ranking officers, if not the general himself, intended as part of...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 215-262)
    (pp. 263-284)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 285-292)