New book looks at the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act

April 14, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(Getty/John Moore)
Re-enactors stage a mid-19th century slave auction January 15, 2011 in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Many think that the first real battle went down at Fort Sumter. But there were some critical court room skirmishes long before that.

When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, slave owners seeking runaway slaves now had the force of law on their side. In response freed slaves and abolitionists fought the law through a series of dramatic fugitive slave trials. The trials were a contest between conscience and law. But they also pitted North against South.

They’re the subject of Steven Lubet’s new book Fugitive Justice: Runaways Rescuers and Slavery on Trial. The Northwestern University Law professor examines how the conflict surrounding runaway slaves contributed to the onset of the Civil War.

WBEZ’s Richard Steele spoke to Lubet about some of the more harrowing histories he recounts. Lubet began by laying out the context around the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.

Music Button: Gabriel Johnson, "Lullabye", from the CD Fra_ctured, (Electrofone Music)