Friday, August 10, 2007

The Fugitive Slave Act, Governing from the 'Political Middle' and Modern Constitutional Rights

In American today, we are seeing a rise in the black middle class as never before.

Its a good thing and its reflected in both the culture, the neighbors, the schools and even in the amount of ads beamed at us from Madison Avenue with good looking upper middle class
black folk buying all kinds of things from Cialis to retirement investments to cars to

Given the all too obvious income of those African American sports and and entertainment and main line professionals who are making bank, [and we're not going to mention Opra and the Hip Hop masters....]

American blacks are seeing income levels that they have never seen before in this nation's history as a whole.

Again, this is a good thing and many are very much deserving of the same and all americans need more understanding on just how long the african american middle class were made to wait for anything approaching true equality to come and arrive on their doorsteps...

There are many contributing factors... and others can speak of the same and hopefully others are far better and capable to speak of such things among the african american culture.

This is not to say there are NOT still major imbalances in the numbers of poor and sick and imprisoned blacks in America and this is still something that our country even today has to reckon with and begin to see better as a system legacy of all that has gone before.

The answer is not necessarily more government programs and more aid and more everything easy...or slogan....

That era has come and all likelihood...

But, the fact remains there systemic deep institutionalized issues that still exist within this present culture and in our collective soul, no matter how much we white men glaze over when viewing a picture of Halle Berry or Beyonce ...and/or no matter how many white young women date available black young guys...

[and how every straight guy in america including myself still dreams of a date w/ Tiara Banks...]
and we all listen to the original blues and soul and rock n roll music, as we have been doing for at least three entire generations now...

The real thing has something to do with the way we view our legal culture and our legal system and the very founding document of this nation and what serious federal policy that historically was made based upon the same.

The Founder's faith was in democratic freedoms and democratic processes and in an open and free society, supposedly.

However, we all know that is not exactly how the blacks and african american usually derived and /or were treated and how they were subjected to legal aparthied in the United States.

What is clear, the role of the American Courts and those in every sector of this nation, both southern and northern were active and insistent on maintaining the federal view of the constitution as it existed for over 80 years prior to the Civil War and for many years, even after that era's reconstruction took place and the Reconstruction Era Amendments were put into place.

Our great Fourteenth Amendment which was derived in the reconstruction era was created out of a philosophical deep debate that originated in the 1850's if not slightly before, on how to reconcile the American founding document with that of the reality of the U.S. Supreme Court's
views and that of many legal views espoused even in northern states, like Ohio's Supreme Court decision which treated african americans both as inferior and/or subject to the "laws of comity"
which meant, the law of the southern slave power as opposed and when confronted within a legal challenge or clash with the northern 'free soil' ideals.

The north did not condone outright slavery and it did not expressly permit slavery for the most part of its existence and the Northwest Territory was unique in its origins in that it specifically and expressly so legally barred slavery in the Northwest Territory in its founding
document, called the Northwest Ordinance, which expressly prohibited segregation in schools and other public endeavors.

This philosophy clashed with the southern and most legal philosophy of the day that held, that the U.S. constitution as a founding document not only permitted slavery in the southern states and colonies, it actually condoned and made specific political provision for the same.

Hence the 3/5 clause and the various compacts made between the north and the south in allowing "in" new states as the country grew, both west and north, and south, if not in Texas

Moving thru modern [last 200 hundred years] of American history in a too rapid manner and forgetting the lessons of this great nation hard fought and hard earned lessons, with dealing w/race and serious historical views of how Americans viewed the question of skin color, freedom and human rights and labor issues as a whole, is an incredible journey for any student or citizen of this nation to undertake and it ought to be done, often and more in depth.

However, moving forward thru much of the early debates over slavery , the basic issues then came to a head thru several critical major public or social and legal 'events'; the compromise of 1850 in admitting certain states as slave to the northern states as 'free', the publication of
Uncle Tom's Cabin, the first massively popular great american novel, the immediate history of the "annexation issue of Texas" and the proxy war of America, in Kansas, between the southern slave owners and that of the radical abolitionists and free soilers which became a build up to and part fuel line for the national war between the states that would follow;

But among these are the major Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld the notion that blacks are not fully human in the sense of being free and being equal and being thus full citizens under the Constitution.

But most important, were the concomitant issues of the northern Black Codes, which Ohio followed closely up thru the start of the civil war and the legal "comity" that Northern federal courts provided to the southern "slave power" or the 'economic interests' of the southern legal culture; mainly the enforcement clauses of the Fugitive Slave Laws of America.

These fugitive laws more than any other thing, bound the nation in extremely personal and express legal terms to the notion that slavery was an American policy derived from its founding source of federal law.

The south was in power from 1800 to 1850 inside the White House, with few exceptions in the very early years, with the Adams presidencies.

But the American democracy 's experiment was headed mainly during its first 80 years, inside a white house and a congress which reflected the lawful view that the Constitution did NOT prohibit discrimination in terms of race and actually condoned the enslavement of millions of human beings in a sweltering southern heated barrel of constitutional compromise and
legal bondage.

What did the North do about such lawful exercise of legal entombment and permitted enslavement of an entire race of people?

As some spoke out vehemently about the same and while many sacrificed their careers and began to make others become aware of the insensitivity and moral and complex political issues wrapped up in side of the slave question of America and its constitutional moral gaping hole,
the courts and in particular the federal courts and its U.S marshals were very compliant with the national code and the national supreme court's view that the slavery laws and the laws of property in the slaves must out of "comity" swing and flow from the southern point of view, and NOT from the north to the south.

In other words, the legal establishment of American and particularly the federal courts of American for its first 80 years strongly sided, when the issue was openly presented to them on whether the northern 'free soil' ideal or the southern slave law and order ideal would prevail[and this was not always so frequent as one would have imagined] ...but when it was, the federal courts of the North acted in the SAME exact manner, as any deep southern slave owner [and powerful corporate ceo today] would expect them to act;

[...just as the Robber Barrons of the latter 19th century came to expect similar favorable treatment from the federal courts, to act, including the Supreme Court itself, in their best interests as opposed to the masses or to the individual notion of civil rights under the 14th Amendment, in the post Civil War/Post Reconstruction Era.]

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court led the charge oftentimes in such instances, since most of the chief justices on the Supreme Court were direct presidential appointees and thus, southern leaning if not southerners themselves or from border states with such sympathies...

Yet, nothing brought this notion home to northerners and even many antislavery or at least free soiler northerners [who hated slavery for economic reasons] perhaps more than anything was the passage of the Second Fugitive Slave acts passed after 1850, within the decade of Lincoln's election and the start of the civil war.

What happened in this historical congressional issued legislation was the political power of the South was welded to the national political will and soul by virtue of many moderate northern politicians, making political compromise with those in the south who feared their "peculiar" institution was in constant need of political support and ever expanding legal structure and affirmance, if not outright justification.

With the Fugitive Slave Acts, Americans everywhere, North and South were bound legally to the iron will of the southern powerful economic interests

So as a result of "ruling from" the 'great middle ground' of Washington's political postulate of compromise, [... an idea a hundred and fifty years old as it is "new" today, according to many... ]

The entire nation, north and south, by federal law were required to legally enforce as co contributors, if not co-conspirators, be they agreed or not, with the particularly disdainful view that blacks were not fully human, if human at all.

Such compromise was perceived at the time to be also, 'only most reasonable' and most 'humane' its proponents presented it, and these Acts were passed in the "great interest of preserving the great bond" of the "free portion of the united states..."

[this in turn drove many an abolitionist in the north to hope for succession, the north from the south...that is...]

Onto the Northern US Federal Courts; No Light Here: The Unique Masked History of the Northern United States District Courts on Human Freedom: Enforcing the Unacceptable, & Making Binding the Southern & the Unimaginable

What is amazing today, when we take another historical view of this dark legal history
of America's federal courts, is this federal law, was NOT contained nor limited in its reach or scope to the South by any federal court in the north.

This law was passed by congress in open society with and among intelligent men who saw race and slavery as something subject to the constitutional definition and limits as they then viewed the constitution and the founder's documented express 'approval' of the same.

But as the debate grew stronger and the moral question for the entire nation, including the South grew deeper, Congress and the Supreme Court itself along with its dutiful 'rule of law' satelities, at the federal district court level, become more and more reactionary and more and more repressive; instead of leading the national moral curve of the United States and its 'free thinkers' like Emerson, Thoreau and Garrison, Weld and Douglass, it retarded them, most often and quite expressly.

Instead, the dictates of the courts took their lead from Calhoun of South Carolina and many other "serious" old slave masters who promoted not only the notion of American slavery but the serious racists philosophy and legal notion that race was a dividing line in terms of human nature itself and that laws must be obeyed which ensured, that America's 'best interests' were served best by accommodation and "compromising middle" of the nation.

The various significant federal court cases of Anthony Burns in Boston and some others in places like Cleveland, in the northern federal court of Ohio, were significant battle grounds where the federal government, late in the day of the deepening moral and constitutional crises of America was decidedly coming down in favor on the side of power, of concentrated wealth and the elite class of americans who favored "law and order" and southern 'slave power' over that of disunion and disruption and northern 'trouble makers'...

What this says about the federal courts constituting the moral fiber of the founding years of the historical Article III courts is something both historians and perhaps, even today's federal courts have yet to come to full terms with;

Their history is simply not that great in either Ohio or Boston, much less Louisianna, in the 1840's and 1850's.

And so much for having any federal Court in America actually lead the nation in terms of anything approaching historically moral and even most notably, anything close in terms of human liberty itself.

Sadly, this just isn't contained to the history of the laws of the federal courts of the first 90 years of this nation; even after the civil war, the highest legal precedent of the federal judiciary did NOT necessarily form into any kind of coherent true committment to a full understanding of contemplated human individual rights and freedom for the personhood of American citizens, as even the most timid disenfranchised follower of Garrison had done some fifty years prior.

[Courts are often in America, the last to really 'get it' and the first to flirt with disaster]

But then, we're getting beyond the fugitive slave acts and that era;

The fugitive slave laws held by federal law, black men and any black runaways [women, children and elderly too ] were to be treated not with the promise of freedom under the law by ANY court in American in 1850, including the North.

....with the enforcement of this slave law and its legal reality, created in the 'great middle grond of political compromise'

the same greatly increased the public debate of the crises in tone, if not practice.

Thus, the slave question became even more so, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Acts which immediately preceded the Civil War, all done with the good intentions of 'ending the ground swell' of rising public anxiety over the very same issue.

These acts made it particular that it was a crime for northerners, any northerner to NOT assist the Southern powers that be, to find, locate and/or report such a free black person ...
anywhere in the north or one's travel's or simply on one's farm...

[today we would call it becoming a government informer status, ironically...

and one has to wonder who and where the third world and the modern era's great dictators GOT the notion to pass such universal 'laws' granting the national government the right to coerce citizens to inform on each other? America could have taught Hitler and Stalin a few things, if the technology of today, were available then....and oddly, its possible, if it were, we would perhaps, still may have slavery in form in this nation... ]

[... today, we only have to think of Bush's domestic spying program to think of some thing even remotely close the fugitive slave laws of 1850's...but these laws today, as massively intrusive and disturbing as they are, still fall seriously short of what these fugitive slaw laws really provided for and what our northern federal courts enforced at times, to 'the letter of the law'... ]

Under the second set of Fugitive Slave laws, Americans were to inform on the whereabouts of a runaway and/or the location of any one who is holding such a person and/or any information about whether one ought to provide such information to one's local Marshall and/or U.S service or local sheriff.

Imagine, America was first a nation of informants well before it was a nation of a totally free society, in the EYES OF FEDERAL COURTS NORTH AND SOUTH in accordance with FEDERAL LAWS OF AMERICA.

This law was in fact enforced at times also and it led to tremendous public outcry and even some near rioting as it was applied in the north in terms of bringing "fugitives" to justice and their 'rightful and lawful' return to their deep south fates.

What the historical impact of this is yet to be fully vetted, even among historians today because the topic is one so embarrassing and so not politically correct or even 'appropriate' to speak of around northern federal court houses and lawyers and legal bar associations.

Everyone in the north wants to believe they were, "on the right side" of this greatest moral debate of this nation's history; this is simply ahistorical as it is complete as any legal fiction ever any was, including the very moral underpinnings of the fugitive slave acts in the first instance.

What is unique, even in the great "free" and ever growing wearisome of the southern-slave issue north....its political 'leaders' and party members continously gave the southern "powers" what they wanted, for decades right up to the very start of the civil war itself.

Compromises and speech after speech were made against the growing moribund institution of slavery through out the later 1840's and 1850's as the country grew more and more tense and anxiety filled over the question of law and constitutionality of slavery; but the answer was continiously cast by the political leaders of one of compromise and great 'middle ground' and the 'power of keeping the union safe"...etc.etc..

In other words, even less than self convinced political leaders of the 1840s and 1850's of American, and among them some of the great names in U.S. history of political backgrounds, like Daniel Wesbter were seen in retrospect as floundering on the greatest moral principle of their days...precisely because they sought compromise w/ their southern counterparts and southern brethren to find a 'solution' to the 'damned' [as many literally came to viewed it then] national compromise the founders had placed the U.S. road to its date w/ destiny upon from the start.

What made the country come to blows was NOT so much the north wanted to 'teach the south as lesson' and /or that such a division could not have been avoided;

Instead, it was precisely due to the fact that so many compromises were made with an obvious moral evil and morally ambivalent constitutional and decidedly onesided legal view point that the nation was driven into a constitutional corner and 'bleeding ground'.

It was propelled there, as well, by the federal courts stubborn refusal to bend, not in the South, where such a culture and bias could be understood, but instead, in the northern federal courts, who often simply refused AT ALL to bend their ears and listen to the great moral and legal arguments beginning to be put forth against slavery as a CONSTITUTIONAL mandate;

[and all the public "suasion" that all major and minor abolitionist were raising and making a national debate and conversation happen over the single most important moral issue of its era.]

In this sense, the public and the advocates against slavery and some of the growing body of political leaders in the north who were being "awakened" to the sense that slavery was the direct result of such compromise in D.C. and in the Congressional halls of power to begin with,
were simply 'sent packing' by the federal courts and in often in local state courts following this notion, that the slave power's legal mandates and this public policy of this nation would and could not be changed or "ignored"...

I.e. since slavery was in a sense, given 'preference' in the very founding document, it was not to be 'touched' by the federal bench upon which its constant servicing depended more and more
as the nation grew more and more tired and disgusted with the Framer's compromise as a working political event and mechanism within the engine of American nationhood.

What does this have to say or tell us today? Some lessons can be gleamed and many more can be imagined and /or inferred if we just pause and try to understand for a moment what kind of consequences those in the congresses of the 1850's faced and how they responded either through "pragmatic" approaches and/or thru some idealistic fewer ones.

First, we must understand, its NOT always the best way to govern, is from 'the middle", as we hear so many today, say and repeat over and over as if they were at the "founding" themselves.

So many mainstream politicians today, constantly state, that "we have to govern from the great middle". Many political consultants and talking heads on TV have repeated this mantra in one form or another as if it were written in the Scriptures; but it is nowhere in the american founding and it is absolutely nowhere to be found in the great abolitionist debates of America.

But more importantly, what the Fugitive Slave laws and the historically compromised and embarrassing federal court precedent which flowed from the same, in places like Washington, Cleveland, Ohio and Boston clearly demonstrate is that if one wants to in times of national moral and serious crises to NOT be remembered in history and/or to be remembered for what it clearly in hindsight appears as idiocy and synchophancy if not worse, then one MUST not seek the "great compromise" on serious national issues of moral worth and a sense of intrinsic well being of the whole of the individual being treated as a true moral being and one which government must protect and regards as a sentient individual before their Creator.

In short, one must not always seek to appease the powers or the "present realities" in order to truly lead a nation or a movement and/or a legal system to recognize its serious moral and legal deficiencies.

Many will call one who is speaking strongly about such topics whatever they called the radical abolitionist of their day, what they did; lunatics, 'fringe elements', 'kooks', 'mudsill lovers' societies' wastes, etc.etc.

But in history, its those very abolitionists who not only come out looking like the modern progressives that every middle school child understands is the truthful and correct and normal way of looking at the world today, but it is also those who did the name calling that are relegated to the dust bin and sad dung hill of history, along with their stench that still reverberates thru
their talk of "great compromise in order to "save the union and our great political order of the day"

We also have to recall as a growing body of american middle class former 'minority only' citizens, that such a serious past history can and does provide us w/ ample warning that even in America, the very same national government can make and enforce laws , today in the name of
"practical political compromise" which are extremely detrimental to the fundamental individual rights espoused today by our american narrative and contrary to the spirit of the best human rights documents that have ever existed as a government in progress on earth.

Hence, the patriot act and the various repressive governmental immunities.

Dan Webster is only considered great today, because of his dictionary and decidedly not due to his timid views of political compromise with the slaveholders of his day.

Dan Webster was denounced openly and repeatedly and passionately smacked down constantly with any one who had an once of moral worth among the leading lights and public commentators of his day; Garrison decried his views as virtual "historical excrement", which
in deed, turned out to be extremely, prophetic.

But we don't hear much about Garrison yet, we tend to teach our school children about this great "Kentuckian who made great speeches"....

[or least we used to; in my school days..i'm not so sure today, if we hear ANYTHING about american history at all...]

Nonetheless, what we also have to realize is that today, our federal courts and our legal system can be just as blind to the major moral significance of a great national issue, today as it was in the antebellum america.

[This is NOT direted to the issue of abortion [only] many want to focus on the issue of Abortion as a purely legal and political question and for them this argument has it own relevance.]

What I am concerned with, is the notion that individual rights in American and those kinds of rights which the 14th Amendment brought into the 'reach' of every man and women in America are being serious discounted, if not outright attacked at times, inside the very same historical courts who seriously discounted the african american human being his.

It will be further stated in this blog and at the midwest center what we're trying to bring to light in making such comparisons and statements as those contained in this particular blog.

We hope we can engender a real, lively geniune, if not academic or historically accurate debate here. We do not profess all knowing status but we are informed and have a point of view.
Most important we believe in public discourse on such critical and timely topics is always a good thing.

We are seeking to educate, to create awareness and to raise the issue as the original abolitionists did about slavery; while understanding theirs was a singular issue at its head, but nonetheless, like ours todays, it also had many faces and many deep tenacles in the political, social, legal and cultural if not business cycles of their era.

So it is with the struggle for human rights today, both in the world at large, and unfortunately, still, very deeply so, in America.

This country which has had such high hopes and has been able to make believers in human freedom so much the common cause of every person, as an ideal, is still so lacking in allowing its people and many of its citizens to be able to simply realize the values and the reality of the legal promises contained in some of its most time honored and fundmental and most sacrosanct, if not blood washed laws and constitutional amendments.

WE will continue with this theme onto into American history and will explore why many historians, today and at the time, it was first adopted, [in the north anyways,] believe[d] the 14th Amendment became literally the second "birth of the nation" for the United States.

We have lived in the coming light of the same ever since, but particularly when within the modern era, we literally conceive of our freedoms and our basis birth rights as humans as containing the right to be free individuals and to think and act freely and we're so ready to go spread this same gospel of such broad human freedom into every sphere of our lives and around the entire world, as normative and something almost divinely inspired and presumed.

Why is this possible today to so conceive of such a modern view of human rights and individual freedom based principles?

Its not because we enslaved millions and then passed federal laws in congress and had federal judges for decades, in the north enforce the duty upon the white northerners to inform and participate at times, in the capture and legal return of the runaway slave; the very idea of giving ones' testimony to the federal authorities as a mandatory obligation [in the north as well as the south] was enshrined in the laws of this nations federal congressional and legal precedent, for at least seven to 10 years prior to the civil war.

This type of amazing legislative act contrary to the very most fundamental notions of what it means to be an individual free from undue and immoral government restraint was created by a cynical but powerful southern led political weight in both Congress and among the Whitehouse[s], pre-Lincoln, which in turn, made the national political parties and in particular many a "middleground" northern congressman seek to compromise any hidden doubts about the same, out of fear.

Entire well established political parties vanished [and others formed and vanished soon again] in the heat of the aftermath of such compromises based on the infamous "middle ground" of national politics within the decade leading up to the civil war.

The courts don't have much excuse, in terms of their insular status as lifetime appointees, but they were hidebound to the social and political environment of the same loathsome idea that every person must be equal before the law, including those of a different skin color.

In this manner, the united states northern district courts' undistinguished history before their very own northern populations and politicians in terms of enforcing such inhumane laws, were but historical faint hearted legal actors creating 'legal' constructs and soon to be forgotten institutional 'lawful' examples and rulings of great immoral but correctly political 'moderate and middle' compromises of antebelllum era american history.

What was the price of freedom as we understand it today?

Or better, where did such a concept [of individual human freedom] come from which found its way inside an old hoary seriously compromised document indicating at first, only a dim glimmer of hope, like a thread of human rights, that would oneday grow and then overtake the entire world and influence hundreds of millions of individuals across time and space and our national boarders and beyond?

The 14th Amendment's origins contains in part, some very solid historical answers and the humble origins of this document are not what one would necessarily believe nor do many even care as they go out tonight and have dinner and believe in their God given right to their human freedoms across this nation.

Yet, again, one major lesson, in short, remains from this fugitive slave era, for us today:

WE need to watch, for political compromise, and politicians who speak in terms of appeasing to do the "only that which is pragmatic" and that which is done in the name of appeasement of certain major regional blocs of power and concentrated wealth or special interests.

....Or in simple terms, we need to very cautious about those who speak and act as if 'governing from the middle' is the only available alternative to managing historical crises in our nation's political lexicon.

While seeking political compromise is a time honored profession in the national is OFTEN times NOT the most time honored system for progressing human rights and/or protecting women and children and the most vulnerable individuals at anytime in our national history.

We also much be in turn , very very careful of federal courts who claim that they are being 'fair and equal' but applying 'applicable federal precedent' are in reality only imposing the will of the powerful and the major economic interests of our era, against that of the individual and the human rights of the common man and woman.

Much has happened since these historic days, inside the Courts and the Laws of America but we need to come clean with the past, in order to make progress, sometimes.

At a minium, we must learn and come to know our past, even our serious , deep past, as a nation and a culture, especially one with a growing powerful minority class, so as to both learn from it and to clearly, not come even close to repeating it.

Germany today, seems to understand this, as does some other countries, like South Africa.

We in America tend to focus so much, if not too much, on the future; its not necessarily bad to do so. But in doing so, we often lose sight of the great serious "suffered" moral and legal issues of this great nation's history. With this we lose persepctive and we may even lose our national soul, if not legal sensibilities, again, today.

Politics by its very nature creates the pressure, if not the need, for compromise. When it comes to human rights and individual rights however, as self sustaining emblems of human existence, there are no easy solutions for governments to allow for compromising the same in exchange for security interests in the name of promoting either 'homeland security' or "law and order", or as those in the antebellum era did, simply, the status quo for many and the economic interest of a few.

The midwest center believes such history and particulary the great legal and constitutional lessons of our nation's serious debate over the nature of man and the role that human governments have in 'speaking to' and 'thru' the ideals enshrined its laws, can be something that even today, in the post modern hyper paced modern world, consumed w/ commericialism and major corporate sponsors, we can still struggle together to learn about this amazing historical journey towards a better understanding of our own constitutional issues present in our society today.

We hope, and believe, in doing so, we will not only add to the quality and vitality of the American public discourse on its singular significant gift to the world in terms of its politics of the Declaration, but also its struggle for present day human rights progress herein in our nation, even sometimes among its 'forgotten' small towns and cities and darkest corners with a view, to seek true acheivement both in politics, legal affairs and public and private thought in our present culture's midst, here and beyond.

....And i close, I think i'm going to head back to my old Esquire mag and take yet another look at that smokn "mulatto" beauty (with her oscar winning abilities) from Cleveland...again ...
and realize, buried in american history, as in nature, when some blacks and a few whites can come together, sometimes, simply amazingly beautiful things can result.

...along with this, I will try to forget, my disdain of that city's own serious antebellum federal courts history of how it has treated the human rights of those ancestors of Halle Berry.

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