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A Southern Professor Defends the Fugitive Slave Law

Albert Taylor Bledsoe, a professor at the University of Virginia, wrote this proslavery tract, Liberty and Slavery, in 1856. Bledsoe defended the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, justified slavery as compatible with the Bible, and argued for the right of secession. In the excerpt below, he refutes a speech by Charles Sumner, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, who had denounced the Fugitive Slave Law. Bledsoe also refers to James Madison ("Mr. Madison") who represented Virginia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention and was later elected president.  

Has Congress the power to pass a Fugitive Slaw Law?

....[W]e cannot forget that a Fugitive Slave Law was passed by the Congress of 1793, received the signature of George Washington, and, finally, the judicial sanction of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The words of Mr. Madison, who "thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man," are four or five times quotes in Mr. Sumner's speech [against the Fugitive Slave Law].  As we have already seen, there cannot be, in the strict sense of the terms, "property in man;" for the soul is man, and no one, except God, can own the soul.  Hence Mr. Madison acted wisely, we think, in wishing to exclude such an expression from the Constitution, inasmuch as it would have been misunderstood by Northern men, and only shocked their feelings without answering any good purpose.

When we say that slaves are property, we merely mean that their masters have a right to their service or labor.  This idea is recognized in the Constitution, and this right is secured.  We ask no more....and if Northern men will, according to the mandate of the Constitution, only deliver up our fugitive servants, we care not whether they restore them as persons or as property.  If we may only reclaim them as persons or as property, and regain their service, we are perfectly satisfied.  

Source | Albert Taylor Bledsoe, "Liberty and Slavery, Or Slavery in the Light of Moral and Political Philosophy" in Cotton is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments, ed. E.N. Elliot (Augusta, GA: Pritchard, Abbot, & Loomis, 1860), 426-430.
Creator | Albert Taylor Bledsoe
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | Albert Taylor Bledsoe, “A Southern Professor Defends the Fugitive Slave Law,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 25, 2023,

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