Opinion

History Will Vindicate Modern Abolitionists

By George Cassidy Payne

The Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was authorize by the U.S. Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the compromise between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. The law stipulated that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to the one who purchased or inherited them and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate.

Therefore, in the year 1850, it was essentially illegal in the United States to provide aid to human beings escaping slavery, mutilation, branding, torture, extortion, rape, and other similar injustices.

Today, in nations such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, human beings are fleeing in droves towards the relative safety and hope of the United States. Why? According to the Council on Foreign Relations: “El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. El Salvador became the world’s most violent country not at war in 2015, when gang-related violence brought its homicide rate to 103 per hundred thousand…. all three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama… Extortion is also rampant. A 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensa found that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million, $200 million, and $61 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups.

Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods… attacks on people who do not pay contribute to the violence.”The CFR goes on to state: “Migrants from all three countries cite violence, forced gang recruitment, and extortion, as well as poverty and lack of opportunity, as their reasons for leaving. While Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama have reported a sharp increase in flows from the Northern Triangle since 2008, most migrants are passing through to settle in the United States.”

As many as 3.4 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are living in the United States, more than double the estimated 1.5 million people in 2000. About 55 percent of them are undocumented.”As someone who appreciates the history of my country, it has always struck me how little is remembered about the slave kidnappers, plantation owners, Fugitive Slave Law enforcers, and politicians who endorsed pro- slavery legislation. For example, the memory of slave hunter Patty Cannon and her merciless gang are almost entirely forgotten. John Breckinridge (1821-1875), Vice President of the U.S. and Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America is a virtual nonentity. Stephen Duncan (1787-1867), a doctor from Pennsylvania who became the wealthiest Southern cotton planter before the Civil War, with 14 plantations, and a founder of the Mississippi Colonization Society, is lucky to have a dead end street named after him in his home town.

Edwin Epps, 10 year owner of Solomon Northrup, author of “Twelve Years a Slave,” is a villain that no one has ever heard of.

Compare this ignoble list to the most legendary abolitionists of the time; names such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Abraham Lincoln, William Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Thaddeus Stevens, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

These were all exceptional individuals who made a decision to willingly break the law. How has history rewarded them? They have become moral giants. They are the ones who our children learn about when they are discovering what it means to be a thinking, loving, and feeling member of the human race.The immigration and migrant abolitionists of today may be breaking the law of a single administration, but history, as with the great freedom fighters of the 19th century, will reward and justify those who stood on the right side of justice.


About the author

George Cassidy Payne

George Cassidy Payne

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer and domestic violence counselor. He has theology degrees from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

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