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The Underground Railroad In Hudson County - Part Seven

By Alexander Maclean

Edited by GET NJ, Copyright 2002

From the abolitionists' resolve, the Underground Railway gained force.

The Dred Scott case -- which had began in 1852 but was held back until after the presidential election of 1854 for fear that it would defeat Buchanan -- caused a fresh outburst against slavery in the free States. The Dred Scott case is so little known now, that its bearing is not generally recognized. Dred Scott was a slave owned by Dr. Emerson, an army surgeon. In 1834 the doctor was transferred to Rock Island in Illinois and took his slave with him. Major Taliaferro, also of the army, was transferred to the same army post in 1835, taking with him his slave woman, Harriet.

In 1836, both were transferred to Fort Snelling in Minnesota, then a territory. Dred and Harriet, with the consent of their owners, married and had two children, both girls. The Doctor later moved to St. Louis and there afterward sold the family, consisting of the parents and the two children. Dred subsequently brought suit for his freedom. The Circuit Court of St. Louis decided in his favor. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney decided that a slave had no standing in court and reversed the decision of the lower court.

In his opinion he outraged public sentiment in the North by declaring that residence in a free State did not make a free-man; that a negro could not be a citizen, and that the Declaration of Independence did not include negroes. It was a long opinion and calculated to arouse enmity.

To this was added the escalating violence in Kansas, which finally led to John Brown's ill-advised raid in 1859. These events added a cumulative flame to public opinion, which unconsciously was drifting toward civil war. The pro-slavery people were more bitter than the anti-slavery people, but there was as much determination on one side as there was on the other. From the abolitionists' resolve, the Underground Railway gained force and popularity.

The enactment by the British Parliament in 1833 of a law which provided for the abolition of slavery in all British Colonies was preceded by eloquent speeches whose winged sords carried hope to many victims of man's inhumanity to man. Slaves in the South learned that freedom would be theirs if they could set their feet on British soil. Prior to this there had been sporadic escapes. Many fugitives had secured homes in the northern States, but each knew that danger lurked in unexpected places. Many were recaptured and returned to servitude more galling because the taste of freedom that had been enjoyed.

Part Eight

Hudson County Facts  by Anthony Olszewski
Hudson County, New Jersey is a place of many firsts - including genocide and slavery.
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