- "Reducing Free Men to Slavery": Black Kidnapping, the "Slave Power," and the Politics of Abolition in Antebellum Illinois, 1830–1860
- Journal of the Early Republic
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 38, Number 2, Summer 2018
- pp. 261-291
- View Citation
- Additional Information
This article looks at the history of kidnapping in Illinois to trace the development of an antislavery politics in the state and to complicate conventional histories about the rise of the Republican Party. Kidnapping cases brought out tepid allies for African Americans in unexpected places: the local press in southern Illinois publicized kidnapping cases, local groups acted as search and rescue parties, and politicians in minor posts, and occasionally in high elected office, acted to protect African Americans in the state. Many of these people never espoused an antislavery politics or embraced abolitionism. However, they worked to protect free men and women from captivity and enslavement. By joining the struggle against slaveholders' power, even tangentially, Illinois residents took part in a larger politics of slavery and antislavery between the 1830s and the U.S. Civil War. Contesting kidnappings contributed to a political awakening in the state, which helped to advance a wider politics of antislavery in Illinois. By examining the history of kidnapping largely before the 1850s, when the foundations of the Republican party had yet to take shape, but abolitionists and antislavery activists were organizing with increasing power, it is possible to identify a longer and more diverse origin to rise of antislavery politics in the state.