The Anthony Burns Affair
A Virginia slave named Anthony Burns escaped from his master and made his way to Boston. Under the Fugitive Slave Act, his master had the right to recapture him and the ability to enlist local officials in his efforts. Burns was arrested in May on false burglary charges. Abolitionists tried every legal gambit they knew, but President Pierce and the U.S. attorney were determined to carry out the Fugitive Slave Act. Mayor Smith of Boston warned his constituents, The laws must be obeyed, let the consequences be what they may. One of Burns' guards was killed when the fugitive's supporters attempted to storm the courthouse.
On June 2, federal troops marched Burns through Boston to a ship that took him back to Alexandria. As he walked the streets of Boston, a coffin ? was suspended from the building at the corner of Washington and State streets in support of Burns, reported the National Intelligencer. It cost about 100,000 to return Burns to his owner, and a few months later Burns was sold to Yankee citizens who then freed him legally. Southerners were concerned by what they saw as a short-lived victory that displayed the need for stronger statutes, and Northerners feared the spread of slavery throughout the country if slave-holders' powers could cross state borders.
- John B. Boles, The South Through Time: A History of an American Region (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999), 296.
- William Freehling, The Road to Disunion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 537.
- Massachusetts Historical Society, http://www.masshist.org.
- Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, http://www.mfh.org.
- "The Excitement at Boston," National Intelligencer, May 30, 1854, 3.
- "The Fugitive Slave Case at Boston," National Intelligencer, June 4, 1854, 3.