December 8, 2001
We can't truly know what feelings were in Sherman M. Booth's mind as he sat in his Milwaukee jail cell in 1854. Contrition was certainly not one of them. Five days earlier he had taken part in the raid on the jailhouse holding escaped slave Joshua Glover of neighboring Racine. Now Glover was well on his way to Canada, if not there already, and Booth, abolitionist editor of the Milwaukee Free Democrat, had been thrown in jail by a federal judge for his part in the escape. Nor was he the only jailbird. A Racine judge had Glover's master, B. S. Garland of St. Louis, and the two attending U. S. marshals put in the local clink on an assault charge. They were released on a writ of habeas corpus, the victim no longer being in the vicinity. The local draft riot of the next decade would prove that Wisconsinites were not overly awed by the Federal Government. In Booth's case a state supreme court justice stated in his opinion that not even federal marshals were, "clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state...and state sovereignty succumb--paralyzed and aghast". The court freed Booth.
Booth was still not contrite, stating, "I am frank to say, and the prosecution may make the most of it -- that I sympathize with the rescuers of Glover and rejoice at his escape. I rejoice that, in the first attempt of the slave-hunters to convert our jail into a slave-pen and our citizens into slave-catchers, they have signally failed, and that it has been decided by the spontaneous uprising and sovereign voice of the people, that no human being can be dragged into bondage from Milwaukee."
Booth would be jailed several more times by Federal authorities. And...several more times...local supreme court judges would free him, delaying prosecution by citing irregularities in the arrest warrant. Judge Byron Paine's remarks in defense of Booth were printed in pamphlet form and distributed around the country. Boston, a city more than mildly interested in abolition, snatched up copies of the defense by the thousands. BTW, if you have a copy in your attic today, get in touch with eBay; they're very rare.
In January of 1855 the United States Supreme Court played spoilsport and reversed the state court. Booth was found guilty, given a one-month jail sentence and fined $1,000, plus costs. A citizen named John Ryecraft, apparently part of the original mob, was given a ten-day sentence and fined $200. Booth wasn't finished with the courts quite yet. Slaveowner Garland, inventory now down by one, sued Booth in U. S. District court for Glover's value and cost the editor a further thousand dollars.
Wisconsinites remained downright defiant. In 1857 they passed an anti-kidnapping law, aimed particularly at slave hunters. In 1860 some defied their own governor and sided with the Federal government. Others would riot against the draft. Booth, financially ruined by various fines, was pardoned by President Buchanan on the day before Lincoln's inauguration. He moved to Chicago, where he served as both Superintendent of House Removals and U.S. Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue, as well as manufacturing and selling fireplace grates. He would die in 1904, at the age of 92, forty years after the Fugitive Slave Act was repealed.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
1) Received the following from subscriber Beth Flory (firstname.lastname@example.org) after last week's posting, regarding New York State =
I am always interested in stories about the Underground Railroad. It has always been part of family lore. Slaves were taken from Naples via the hearse (had a trapdoor in the bottom and is still brought out on special occasions by its owner, the local funeral director) and went over the hills to my family, the Pittses in Honeoye. William Pitts was my grandmother's father. Helen, who married Frederick Douglass, was my grandmother's first cousin (daughter of William's brother, Gideon) The marriage upset the Pittses no end. Some were so distressed that they moved to Kansas. I have always admired Helen's courage and independence. Best of all, the evidence points to genuine love and a happy marriage, both relatively rare commodities!!
She added =
Feel free to use any or all of my message. It might introduce me to some Pitts cousin or bring me more information.
URL OF THE WEEK
Until overshadowed by
the events of September 11th, Bill Clinton's presidential pardons
as he left office were often front page news. Some pardons, like
Buchanan's of Sherman M. Booth, we can look back on and see the
justification, others, like some in the latest round, we can only
scratch our heads over. "Jurist:
The Legal Education Network" has a site for those of you
who want to learn more about these parting shots by former U.
S. presidents. You'll find a weealth of material at
There are FAQs, notable pardons, specific legal cases, the procedure used, congressional hearings, online articles, media interviews, a debate on the subject, and a bibliography.
Oh, yes, pardon me, there's also links to the latest on the Clinton pardons.
IT STILL WAVES
© 2001 David Minor /Eagles Byte