This magisterial study, ten years in the making by one of the field’s most distinguished historians, will be the first to explore the impact fugitive slaves had on the politics of the critical decade leading up to the Civil War. Through the close reading of diverse sources ranging from government documents to personal accounts, Richard J. M. Blackett traces the decisions of slaves to escape, the actions of those who assisted them, the many ways black communities responded to the capture of fugitive slaves, and how local laws either buttressed or undermined enforcement of the federal law. Every effort to enforce the law in northern communities produced levels of subversion that generated national debate so much so that, on the eve of secession, many in the South, looking back on the decade, could argue that the law had been effectively subverted by those individuals and states who assisted fleeing slaves.
Richard Blackett is a historian of the abolitionist movement in the US and particularly its transatlantic connections and the roles African Americans played in the movement to abolish slavery. He is the author of Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860; Beating Against the Barriers. Biographical Essays in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American History; Thomas Morris Chester: Black Civil War Correspondent; Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War; Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery, and Running A Thousand Miles for Freedom: The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. His most recent work is The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery.
Blackett has been named the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University for the 2013-14 academic year. On May 5, 2008, the Library Company held its Annual Dinner in its 277th year. Professor Richard J. Blackett, the Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, was the featured speaker. Click Here for an audio pod cast of his talk about the African American struggle in the age of emancipation. Blackett taught previously at the University of Pittsburgh (1971-85), Indiana University (1985-1996); University of Houston where he was the John & Rebecca Moores professor of history and African American Studies (1996-2002). He has been Associate Editor of the Journal of American History (1985-1990), Acting Editor (1989-1990); editor of the Indiana Magazine of History (1993-1996). He is also past president of the Association of Caribbean Historians.