The Rescue of Joshua Glover
A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War
Winner of the Gambrinus Prize and the Dale Somers Memorial Award
“A fascinating and riveting account.... Baker does a masterful job of detailing the events.”
“H. Robert Baker’s book does an excellent job discussing the case’s legal and constitutional aspects. He sees the case as the last gasp of a populist antebellum constitutionalism, where the people, not the Supreme Court, are the ultimate arbiters of the constitutionality of the laws.”
“(A)n exemplary case study of the events leading up to the undeservedly obscure Supreme Court decision in Ableman v. Booth (1859).... Baker lays out the complex legal proceedings with admirable clarity.”
“The Rescue of Joshua Glover is part of a new approach to constitutional history that examines legal texts with sensitivity to the context in which they were created and debated.... Baker’s complex and compelling book is about legal ramifications of the rescue of Joshua Glover more than it is about the man himself.”
“The little-known story of Joshua Glover has all the earmarks of a dramatic tale of freedom.... The key battlefield in this pre-Civil War struggle over state’s rights and the Constitution is the courtroom.”
“Ableman v. Booth finally gets its due in this illuminating study. A must-read for anyone interested in the impact of slavery on the development of the American constitutional system.”
“The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War is an important new examination of how American constitutional law and popular culture intersected in the antebellum era.... A valuable case study of the ways in which the Constitution was reshaped outside of the courts as well as inside of them.”
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.
H. Robert Baker is an assistant professor of legal and constitutional history at Georgia State University.
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