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The Rescue of Joshua Glover

A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War

H. Robert Baker

Publication Year: 2006

On March 11, 1854, the people of Wisconsin prevented agents of the federal government from carrying away the fugitive slave, Joshua Glover. Assembling in mass outside the Milwaukee courthouse, they demanded that the federal officers respect his civil liberties as they would those of any other citizen of the state. When the officers refused, the crowd took matters into its own hands and rescued Joshua Glover. The federal government brought his rescuers to trial, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court intervened and took the bold step of ruling the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. The Rescue of Joshua Glover delves into the courtroom trials, political battles, and cultural equivocation precipitated by Joshua Glover’s brief, but enormously important, appearance in Wisconsin on the eve of the Civil War. H. Robert Baker articulates the many ways in which this case evoked powerful emotions in antebellum America, just as the stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was touring the country and stirring antislavery sentiments. Terribly conflicted about race, Americans struggled mightily with a revolutionary heritage that sanctified liberty but also brooked compromise with slavery. Nevertheless, as The Rescue of Joshua Glover demonstrates, they maintained the principle that the people themselves were the last defenders of constitutional liberty, even as Glover’s rescue raised troubling questions about citizenship and the place of free blacks in America.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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Title page, Copyright Page

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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

It is doubtful that many in Wisconsin knew of Joshua Glover on March 10, 1854. He had been living and working on the outskirts of Racine, a burgeoning port city, for about two years. Glover was quiet and inconspicuous. Then, on March 10, he was arrested after nightfall as a fugitive slave, the legal property of Benammi Garland of Missouri. The following ...

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One: Rescuing Joshua Glover

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pp. 1-25

IT WAS Friday night, March 10, 1854. Seven men stood outside Joshua Glover’s cabin. They had departed from the port city of Racine in two wagons just before dusk to make the four-mile journey to Glover’s home. The last hundred yards or so they walked, ensuring a stealthy approach. Among the men was Benammi Garland, of St. Louis, the man who claimed Joshua ...

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Two: The Fugitive Slave Act

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pp. 26-57

A VOCAL portion of Wisconsin’s citizenry, in popular assembly, had declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional. Their actions made the act virtually unenforceable—in practice, a nullity. But was that law unconstitutional? The Constitution, after all, mandated the return of fugitive slaves across state lines. There had been an act regarding the procedure for their return on the U.S. statute books since 1793, and proposals ...

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Three: The Disappearance of Joshua Glover

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pp. 58-79

JOSHUA GLOVER disappeared on March 11, 1854, just as quickly as he had appeared to most Wisconsinites. Most who argued about the merits of his arrest and rescue, in fact, had never laid eyes on him. Milwaukeeans who had vowed in their resolutions to protect him did not see Glover until his actual rescue. Even those who visited him in jail before the rescue did not know him. He was to them a fugitive, one of many ...

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Four: Citizenship and the Duty to Resist

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pp. 80-111

JOSHUA GLOVER had gone to Canada, leaving the federal government unable to fulfill its duty to return the fugitive slave to his owner, Benammi Garland. Its role, however, was far from over. The Fugitive Slave Act provided criminal penalties for those who interfered with its enforcement, and federal officers intended to prosecute the rescuers. None was more important than Sherman Booth, Milwaukee’s outspoken abolitionist printer, ...

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Five: The Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Fugitive Slave Act

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pp. 112-134

ON JANUARY 30, 1855, Sherman Booth, John Ryecraft, the county sheriff, and about two thousand well-wishers marched to the train station along a path that, not coincidentally, took them past Judge Miller’s residence. As they passed his home, they sang “Jordan is a hard road to travel.”1 Booth and Ryecraft boarded the train to Madison for a hearing before the supreme court. ...

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Six: The Constitution before the People

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pp. 135-161

ON FEBRUARY 5, 1855, U.S. district court judge Andrew Miller found his courtroom crowded for the first time since he had sentenced Sherman Booth to one month in prison and a $1,000 fine several weeks earlier. Members of the press and public had come to hear his reaction to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s release of Booth on a writ of habeas corpus. He obliged ...

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Seven: Denouement

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pp. 162-177

THE RESCUE OF Joshua Glover had, by 1860, become a national event. Wisconsin’s steadfast resistance had morphed from a fugitive slave rescue to the interposition of the state with such intensity that all federal officers— from a deputy marshal to the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court— had been stung by the defiance. Most off-putting to them was its success. ...

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Coda: The Ends of History

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pp. 178-188

IN 1959, jazzman Charles Mingus recorded “The Fables of Faubus” on his album Mingus Ah Um. He recorded it as an instrumental because Columbia Records deemed the lyrics, which lampooned Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, too controversial. Faubus had become famous for dispatching the Arkansas National Guard to keep nine black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. ...


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pp. 189-236

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 237-251


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pp. 253-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780821442142
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418130

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 607872676
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Rescue of Joshua Glover

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Subject Headings

  • Glover, Joshua.
  • United States. Fugitive slave law (1850).
  • Booth, Sherman M. -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Fugitive slaves -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Fugitive slaves -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Wisconsin -- History -- 19th century.
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