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University, Court, and SlaveProslavery Academic Thought and Southern Jurisprudence, 1831–1861$
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Alfred L. Brophy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199964239

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199964239.001.0001

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The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Grammar of Pro-slavery Thought

(p.159) 6 The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
University, Court, and Slave

Alfred L. Brophy

Oxford University Press

The debates over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 reveal key proslavery arguments, such as the importance of economic utility, a sense that slavery is nearly ubiquitous in human history, and that slavery cannot be ended without doing more harm than good. Such arguments, which mirror arguments made by proslavery southern academics, confirm that the academics and politicians were speaking a similar language. While the Fugitive Slave Act has often been studied in the North, as an episode where Northerners debated whether to follow an unjust law, in the South the Act served to reconfirm values about the morality of holding humans as property. When antislavery northerners argued against the Act, southern supporters used the debate to articulate the jurisprudence of slavery: that it was supported by economic considerations and that it was immoral to free enslaved people because that would result in more suffering than continuing slavery.

Keywords:   Fugitive Slave Act, proslavery thought, utility, rule of law, Daniel Webster, moral philosophy

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