by Bernie LaForest, Wisconsin Tenth Amendment Center

Slavery had been prohibited in Wisconsin under the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, according to which our state and territory were formed.  However in 1850 the Federal Government passed the Fugitive Slave Act which forced citizens to return any captured slaves to their owners.  This caused a great stir within the growing abolitionist movement who felt they were being forced to comply with a law to which they were morally opposed.

Between 1842-1861 over a hundred slaves appear to have been helped to escape to Canada by Wisconsin citizens.  In 1843 Lyman Goodnow helped the first slave escape from Wisconsin by driving Caroline Quarlls in 1842.  Caroline was one of the first recorded to escape by way of the underground railroad.  She escaped from St. Louis on the 4th of July and by way of the Mississippi arrived in Alton, Illinois.  From there she traveled to Waukesha by way of stage and ultimately she was driven by a Waukesha man around Chicago, through Indiana and across Michigan, where she escaped from Detroit into Canada.  These were changing times in the nation.  The Abolitionist movement was growing and in 1851 Harriet Beecher Stowe gained fame by publishing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

In 1852 Joshua Glover also escaped his owner in St. Louis, Missouri and made his way through the underground railroad and sought asylum in Racine in the early part of 1854, where he found work in a mill.  A $200 reward was offered and published in the St. Louis Missouri Republican (newspaper); May 27, 1852, page 3, column 7, which appears to the right.  Joshua’s Missouri master, B. S. Garland, learned of his whereabouts, procured a US District Court Order and proceeded with two Marshall’s to Glover’s shanty.  Accounts differ on the events of Joshua’s capture.  One account says that he was caught playing cards with another black man.  Regardless, he was beaten severely with a club and had a pistol pointed at his head and was handcuffed.  In the words of Sherman M. Booth, who we will get to shortly, Glover “was knocked down and handcuffed, dumped mangled and bleeding into a democrat wagon, and with a marshal’s foot on his neck taken to Milwaukee and thrust into the county jail.”

When word of this reached the public, there was immense interest.  Hundreds of people arrived by boat from Racine and other members of the abolitionist movement crowded around the courthouse in Milwaukee.  Reports have Sherman M. Booth, the editor of The Free Democrat Garland riding up and down the street on a white horse proclaiming to the crowds, “Freemen, to the rescue!”  Mr. Booth later denied that he made that statement.  He did admit to saying the following, “All freemen who are opposed to being made slaves or slave-catchers turn out to a meeting in the courthouse square at 2 o’clock!”

This occurred on a Friday and government authorities refused to take any action until Monday.  Joshua Glover was left beaten and bleeding in his cell.  There was intense pressure from the crowds and cries for that a writ of habeas corpus and a trial by jury be afforded to Joshua Glover.  A local judge issued a writ, but federal officials refused to recognize it’s validity.  The crowd insisted that they be given the keys to the jail and were refused.  This led to a group of approximately 20 men battering down the doors with a large piece of timber.  They freed Joshua from his cell.  Bringing him outside, they were ringed by approximately 1000 protesters.  they went from Wisconsin street to East Water street, and down East Water street to what was then called Walkers Point bridge.  When they arrived there, John A. Messenger, a Democrat asked what was going on.  Upon explanation, he took Joshua into his buggy and with federal Marshall’s and slave hunters in pursuit, he took back roads and changed course many times, heading westward until they reached Waukesha.  Messenger was deathly afraid of being recognized during the escape.  He was a staunch Democrat and knowingly had violated the fugitive slave act.  He took Joshua to the home of W. D. Bacon who was an Abolitionist, he went direct to his house, which is where the Spring City Hotel is now located, in the village of Waukesha.  Joshua stayed there until he could be transported to Racine by Waukesha editor Chauncey Olin who recalls the events in his memoir, and eventually to Canada where he lived as a free man until passing in June of 1888 in Ontario, Canada.

While it was indeed a victory for Joshua to be freed and liberated to Canada, the story does not end here for the people who came to his aid.  Indeed the legal struggles were just beginning.  There was a great deal of litigation to follow.  The sheriff of Racine county arrested B. S. Garland as well as those who had aided in the capture of Joshua Glover on the charge of assault.  Garland obtained his release on a writ of habeas corpus during the time that Joshua was en route to Canada.

The federal authorities charged Booth with assisting Glover’s escape. Booth was arrested and a grand jury found a bill of indictment against him and two others. He appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme court for a writ of habeas corpus.  Booth was released on bail but two months later, at his own request, he was delivered to the U.S. Marshal. Booth’s surrender was calculated to bring a test case in the state courts challenging the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. On the day after the surrender, Booth’s attorney, Byron Paine (later a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court), successfully applied to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abram D. Smith for a writ of habeas corpus.

The learned judges read long opinions declaring the Fugitive Slave law of 1850 unconstitutional.   In the meantime, U.S. Attorney General Kushing had decided to appeal the Wisconsin decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court. Two writs of error were subsequently issued by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney directing the clerk of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to send the records in both the 1854 case (Ableman v. Booth).

Angered by that opinion and unwilling to accept the logic of Chief Justice Taney who had written the infamous Dred Scott case, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a series of resolutions denouncing the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court as “an arbitrary act of power … without authority, void and of no force,” and urging “positive defiance” by the states as the “rightful remedy.”

That is our history Wisconsin.  We have long supported the Tenth Amendment and as it saved those who rescued Joshua Glover it can save us again today. 

I urge you to support your local Tenth Amendment Center and join us in a common cause of restoring our liberties and curtailing the overreach of the federal government.

Bernie LaForest is the Outreach Director for the Wisconsin Tenth Amendment Center.


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