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On the Edge of FreedomThe Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820–1870$
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David G. Smith

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823240326

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823240326.001.0001

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The Fugitive Slave Issue on Trial

The Fugitive Slave Issue on Trial

(p.87) 4 The Fugitive Slave Issue on Trial
On the Edge of Freedom

David G. Smith

Fordham University Press

This chapter examines the attempt of antislavery activists to contest the fugitive slave issue legally in Pennsylvania's courts. If Pennsylvania judges could be induced to rule for fugitive slaves in doubtful cases, then perhaps the flow of fugitives reclaimed could be stemmed, and the price of recovery could be driven too high for Southerners. Southerners would quickly respond by bringing their own legal cases against those who helped fugitive slaves; this chapter examines three notable local cases and also applies scientist Garrett Hardin's “tragedy of the commons” concept to why Southern slaveholders continued to recover their slaves from south central Pennsylvania even when such action would likely make it very difficult for subsequent slaveholders to do so. Pennsylvania's personal liberty laws restricting the recovery of fugitive slaves would also irritate Southern slaveholders until the Civil War, and contribute significantly to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.

Keywords:   Thomas Finnegan case, Daniel Kaufman case, John McClintock, tragedy of the commons, James Cooper, fugitive slave, Garrett Hardin, personal liberty law

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