Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War / Edition 1

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During the 1840s and 1850s, a dangerous ferment afflicted the North-South border region, pitting the slave states of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri against the free states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Aspects of this struggle—the underground railroad, enforcement of the fugitive slave laws, mob actions, and sectional politics—are well known as parts of other stories. Here, Stanley Harrold explores the border struggle itself, the dramatic incidents that it comprised, and its role in the complex dynamics leading to the Civil War.

Border War examines the previously neglected cross-border clash of attitudes and traditions dating many generations back. By the mid-nineteenth century, nowhere else were tensions greater between antislavery and proslavery interests. Nowhere else was there more direct conflict between the forces binding North and South together and those driving them apart. There were mass slave escapes, battles between antislavery and proslavery vigilantes, and fierce resistance in the Border North to the kidnapping of free African Americans. There were also fights throughout the borderlands between fugitive slaves and those attempting to apprehend them. Harrold argues that, during the 1850s, warfare on the Kansas-Missouri line and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, were manifestations of a more pervasive border conflict that helped push the Lower South into secession and helped persuade most of the Border South to stand by the Union.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Bleeding Kansas may be well known, but the fuller extent of pre-Civil War border violence is likely to surprise many readers. There were raids across all the border states, in both directions, for two decades before secession. There were hotbeds of abolitionist and proslavery strife in Maryland and Kentucky, for instance, as well as Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Harrold (history, South Carolina State Univ.) covers the many fights across these North-South borders, as well as newspaper writing that fanned the flames on both sides. A good addition to all Civil War collections.
From the Publisher
Border War is a must-have for anyone seeking to understand the small-scale underlying fights that snowballed the Civil War. . . . Textbooks and many leading historical works leave gaps by portraying the sweeping movements, but Harrold fills in the details without which a true and thorough understanding of the slavery issue and the Civil War is impossible.—Virginia Libraries

[This book] should immediately be standard reading for all historians of antebellum America.—Journal of Southern History

The impressive research in Border War raises a theme that historians must confront.—Journal of Illinois History

This work forces historians to reconsider the fault lines of the origins of the Civil War and promises new directions for research. Highly recommended.—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807834312
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 11/8/2010
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Harrold is professor of history at South Carolina State University.

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Table of Contents


Introduction Perception of War 1

1 Early Clashes 17

2 Fear and Reaction in the Border South 35

3 Southern Aggression in the Lower North 53

4 Interstate Diplomacy 72

5 Fighting against Slavery in the Lower North 94

6 The Struggle for the Border South 116

7 Fighting over the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 138

8 Pressure on the Border South Increases 159

9 From Border War to Civil War 183

Conclusion 209

Notes 215

Bibliography 263

Index 285

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A "Must Read" book

    Slavery did not present a great problem when the majority of the states held slaves. As states emancipated slaves and other states did not, two systems created problems. As America moved through the 1800s, the slavery problem grew until civil war settled the issue. Petitions to Congress, resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law, John Brown and Uncle Tom's Cabin occupy our attention in the East. "The Troubles" in Kansas occupies our attention in the West. Together, they make up the majority of the history of anti-slavery activities prior to the war. This book looks at the everyday problems on the border between a free and slave society. It is not so much a history of great events but of problems. These problems built the attitudes causing the big events that make up history. New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri were the border. On this canvass is played out a very nasty contest were comprise while attempted is almost impossible to archive.
    An escaped slave is a loss from $50,000 to $80,000, in today's dollars. Any debit contracted to buy a slave is not forgiven if the slave escapes. From Slave States comes a constant stream of runaway slaves and those trying to capture them. These results in confrontations that are often violent. Northern Whites and Free Blacks join escaped slaves fighting those trying to recapture them. Often, the court became involved and usually protected the escaped slave. Southern states tried diplomacy to establish their rights under the law to their property. As the Northern courts become less sympathetic and refuse to return escaped slaves, the South turns to the Federal Government.
    A major problem in Northern states is attempts to enslave black residents. In some cases, the claim is the person ran away years ago and is legal property. These cases often went to court with varied results. In other cases, gangs simply kidnapped people to take south and sell into slavery. Philadelphia has a real problem with kidnappers for years, young men and children being prime targets of the gangs.
    Going south are kidnappers that have jumped bail or escaped arrest. Another and possibly larger group are men jailed while trying to capture an escaped slave. Southern states are loath to surrender these people; just as Northern states are loath to surrender Blacks. The result is a continued series of hearings and court filings that increase the anger and frustration level on both sides.
    A second group going south is men looking to encourage and guide escaped slaves to freedom. This very dangerous activity results in many mass escapes, some well armed, pitched battles and court cases. This is an amazing look at personal bravery and great risk to fight a moral wrong.
    This is a history of legal actions, raids, hearings, riots and small desperate battles. It is a very personal series of events that together built the political battles of the times. The author is an excellent writer. This large canvass is put into an understandable logical story where each series of incidents leads to the next. We come to understand why the South fought for the Fugitive Slave Law and why John Brown could think, his raid just might work. The author is very fair to both sides, presenting the facts and their positions without moralizing or injecting modern ideas. This is a unique book and one that is necessary read if you want to understand politics prior to the w

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    Posted February 11, 2011

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    Posted November 20, 2010

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