While it does not come as a surprise, every single time I open Wilentz I am reading about slavery. I realize that it is a product of the time period we are studying. However, it seems unreal to me that one thing could dominate every sphere of politics for so long. Slavery seems to me, to be the only issue ever to be able to accomplish a dominance of this kind. I could not envision a time or idea that could do that today. While we have specific issues that dominate politics, both economic and social, there is no one issue that stands alone as a contributor to all other issues. Slavery was just that, it was a dominant force socially, economically, and politically.
Particularly, the issue of the Fugitive Slave Law is intriguing. MIHAN on 11/19 mentions that among some compromises made there was a “much more stringent Fugitive Slave Act, which inadvertently led to tensions…” I was not surprised to read what I did in Wilentz on the issue. However, I did find that the specific people mentioned with regard to the Law are among the most powerful anti-slavery advocates out there. John Brown, a rabblerousing abolitionist from Massachusetts, is mentioned with regard to his armed resistance. Frederick Douglass is also mentioned, and he is in support of a violent end to the Fugitive Slave Law. Wilentz writes of the Underground Railroad and the abolitionists, black and white, that stuck their necks out for the runaway slaves. This also brings to light the so-called hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. The Fugitive Slave Law made the entire United States a dangerous place for all slaves, former slaves, and even free blacks. Wilentz writes, “The new Fugitive Slave Law compelled ordinary northerners to participate in slave recoveries, on pain of fine and imprisonment, and placed heavy penalties on any found guilty of aiding runaway slaves–in effect turning the entire northern population, black and white, into one large slave patrol” (353). This made the Underground Railroad much more dangerous, and also created a tough internal controversy for many people in the north and south. This law made everyone punishable if they helped or even knew about a runaway slave. In no way was this meant to last forever. The everyday tension brought upon all people under this law was too much to bear.
I would argue that the new and improved Fugitive Slave Law was a substantial problem in the antebellum United States. With slavery dominating every facet of life, the Fugitive Slave Law pushed it one step too far.