The Oberlin Evangelist
September 29, 1858
The Slave Hunt
Our community has been excited at various times during a few weeks past, by attempts to recapture fugitives in the place. These efforts have been made, as we understand, by men from Kentucky aided at one time by a deputy U. S. Marshal who resides here, and at another by a deputy U.S. Marshal from Columbus. It is not necessary to say that these efforts have stirred up intense feeling on the part of our citizens, and that none have been found so lost to humanity as to indicate openly and sympathy with the man-hunters. The only fugitive law for which the people of Oberlin have any respect, is that recorded in the fifth book of Moses: “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee even among you, in that place which he shall chose, in one of thy gates where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.” - Deut. xxiii: 15, 16.
In these undertakings there was no approach to success until stratagem and treachery were resorted to. On Monday, Sept. 13, a young man residing two or three miles from town was hired to decoy a colored man from the village, upon the pretence of employing him in labor. As they were riding o the way to the work, as the colored man supposed, about two miles from the village he was seized by three men – one an official from Columbus, the others Kentuckians – and hustled into a carriage. They drove at once to Wadsworth’s Hotel in Wellington. A resident of Oberlin met them on the way and reported in town his suspicions that an arrest had been made. Companies of men, students and citizens, armed and unarmed, at once followed in pursuit and were joined on the way by others. At Wellington they found the hotel already surrounded by crowds of people, while the man-hunters with their victim had taken refuge in the garret and had barricaded the passages. The gathering increased hourly and the excitement grew more intense, until at last the doors themselves gave way before the moral force that was brought to bear upon them, and the poor fugitive walked forth to the crowd who bore him off in triumph. Not a shot was fired, nor a blow struck, nor a bolt broken. It was not possible to resist the demand for the release in the name of the Higher Fugitive Law, backed by such an executive force.
It is not our purpose to apologize for what some may consider disorder and interference with the execution of the laws of the land. We admit most freely that there are evils connected with all such popular uprisings in support of justice in opposition to the forms of law, but there are also evils in succumbing to mischief framed by law because “on the side of the oppressor there is power.” Let the casuist decide which is the greater evil – or, if he fail, we refer the question to him who has felt the iron enter his own soul.
The movement was doubtless very imprudent in many points of view, but there are higher virtues than that low prudence which men are wont to honor.
“If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth he not know it? And shlall he not render to every man according to his works? – Proverbs xxiv: 11,18.