Ordinance of 1787

The South and the Ordinance of 1787

The drawing above shows men in colonial dress nailing a broadside onto a tree. Other figures, including some which appear to represent historical figures such as George Washington and Patrick Henry, and some Indians, watch. The drawing probably refers to the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which created the Northwest Territory as a part of the United States. The artist was James Henry Beard (1812-1893).

The Ordinance of 1787

We have been accustomed to attribute the unanimity with which the Ordinance of 1787 was enacted, to the prevalend of Anti-Slavery sentiment in the country at the time of its passage. The Richmond Whig seems anxious to divest the South of all credit on this score.

Read the following:

“We have never been able, satisfactorily, to account for the extraordinary unanimity with which the Southern members of Congress supported this famous Ordinance – by which slavery was excluded from the Northwestern Territory. It is explained, however, by a paragraph in a letter from Colonel William Grayson, one of the members of Congress from Virginia at that time, (which we find in the New York Tribune,) addressed to one of his colleagues. He writes: ‘The clause respecting Slavery was agreed to by the Southern members, for the purpose of preventing Tobacco and Indigo,’ (the former the great staple of Virginia, and the latter of South Carolina,) from being made on the Northwest side of the Ohio, as well as for several other political reasons.’

“What those ‘political reasons’ were, however, we are unable to conjecture. That class of reasons now exert a contrary influence.”

It is painful to see this anxiety on the part of a leading Virginia paper to ascribe one of the noblest acts of Virginia and the Southern States, to merely selfish motives.

One is tempted, after reading such a paragraph, to believe that there was too much truth in the imputation made in the Convention that framed the Federal Constitution, that the efforts of Virginia to obtain an immediate prohibition of the foreign slave trade, were stimulated by a disposition to monopolize the business of supplying Georgia and South Carolina with slaves. But, no! we will not follow the example of the Whig, and offer such an indignity to the State which, through its delegates in the Federal Convention, stood pre-eminent in its opposition to slavery.

Whatever the public sentiment in Virginia now, once she had a Washington, who deplored Slavery as a crime, declared that it ought to be abolished by law, and that, so far as his suffrage could go in obtaining such a law, it should not be wanting.

Whatever the political or economical reasons which influenced the action of the Southern States, in 1787, this much is certain – they were unanimous in the passage of an ordinance prohibiting Slavery in the only Territory possessed by the United States.

The fact that they gave changed their policy, and that “that class of reasons exert a contrary influence,” does not make the prohibition of Slavery now, in United States’ territory, unconstitutional, or render it proper now that the other sections of the Union should change their minds – unless, indeed, it be claimed, that the fluctuating views of a few slaveholders, in relation to the interests of Indigo, Tobacco, Rice, Cotton, and Sugar, should decide what is constitutional, just, and politic, for twenty millions of people.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

Source: The National Era, February 17, 1848

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Colored Schools in Louisville

Image Details: Part of the front of the Virginia Avenue Colored School, located at 3628 Virginia Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky, United States. Built in 1923, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This passage appears in one of the volumes in the Kentucky County Histories section of our American County Histories Collection.

Chapter XVI: The Public Schools of Louisville

The public school system of Louisville, Kentucky, in which all of her people feel a proper pride, has been a plant of slow growth. Its germ dates back to the earliest period of the town’s existence, and its history is, to a large extent, that of the common schools of the State, varied by local conditions. It found its first visible expression in the log school-house, taught by the private pedagogue–who received a fee for tuition–passing to a stage of partial State aid, and going through all the wearisome vagaries of a formative period. After a century of experiment and trial, it took permanent shape, and the system was extended so as to embrace the whole State.

Colored Schools

The adoption of the third charter, therefore, found the school system in a sound and prosperous condition, when a still further advance was made. Steps had been taken soon after the war and the emancipation of negroes to provide for the education of that race. Prior to that time their property had been exempt from taxation for school purposes, but in 1866 an act was passed setting aside the taxes paid by negroes as a separate fund for the education of their children, and an additional poll tax of $2 for each male negro over eighteen years old for the same purpose, and authorizing the trustees of the school districts throughout the State to open separate schools for the education of the negro and mulatto children.


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"You call it the dirty work of the Democratic Party to catch fugitive slaves for the Southern people. We are willing to perform that dirty work." John A. Logan, in the Illinois State Legislature, Dec. 9th, 1859.

The Difference in Fugitive Slave Laws

Caption:  “You call it the dirty work of the Democratic Party to catch fugitive slaves for the Southern people. We are willing to perform that dirty work.” John A. Logan, in the Illinois State Legislature, Dec. 9th, 1859.
Image Details:  Illustration from Puck Magazine

The Difference

Boston, Mass., March 4, 1851.

To the Editor of the National Era:

I frequently hear it asserted that the law of 1850, for the recovery of fugitive slaves, does not materially differ from that of 1793, and that neither enactment requires anything more of the North than the performance of its constitutional obligations. Regarding both these propositions as false and mischievous, as tending to reconcile the public to the present state of the law, I wish, if you will give me room in your paper, to state, briefly, the points of difference between the two States, and the points wherein the statute of 1850 transcends the requirements of the Constitution.

1. The law of 1793, as expounded by the Supreme Court of the United States imposed no duty upon a free State, or upon any citizen of a free State, except upon certain officers; and, as they occupied their places voluntarily, it may with truth be said that, under that law, a man could live in a free State without participating in the business of making men who, through deadly peril, had won their freedom, slaves again. The amount of the enactment of 1793, was, that if a slave escaped into a free State, his owner might, carrying with him from home, or engaging in the State to which the slave had fled, such voluntary aid as he should find needful, take him away, without becoming liable to the penalties for kidnapping. By that law, freemen were not required to become slave-hunters or slave-catchers. They performed their whole duty if they offered no opposition when the slave-hunter would hunt his prey upon their soil. By the law of 1850, the United States carries the fugitive back to slavery, and thus every citizen must participate in the deed. More than this by that law every citizen is required, when called upon, to give his strength the labor of his own free muscles to the work.


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Glorious News – Slavery Abolished from the Constitution

We have the pleasure of chronicling in this issue of our paper, for the benefit of our readers, the thrilling and joyous intelligence that on the last day of January, 1865, the House of Representatives of the United States voted to amend the Constitution, so as to cause it to read as follows:

Article XIII

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This was carried by a vote of 119 for the amendment, to 56 in opposition to it. Thus is has passed by a two-third vote. The Constitution of the United States is now amended beyond doubt.

The Lord be praised for his great work of reformation in the hearts of the American people. We know that this welcome news will gladden the hearts of all patriots and true lovers of God and humanity, freedom and liberty. We hope that our Legislatures will act wisely in the premises. Once more may the old State House Bell ring forth, as in days of yore, proclaiming Liberty throughout the land – proclaiming that the martyrs of today have not cast their lives away in vain. A wild hum of joy comes to our ears on the dancing breeze as the bondman’s shackles fall, and we can almost hear the glad cry gushing like a fountain from his heart – “O God, we thank thee.”

Source: The Christian Recorder, February 4, 1865

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Books for Everybody – The ALA in 1920

How the American Library Association Is Educating the Nation by Furnishing Out-of-the-way Villages and Isolated Farming Districts with Worth-While Literature

By Charled Aubrey Eaton,
Associate Editor of Leslie’s

ON a bleak and blustery day in February I was journeying down the Hudson River from Albany. The weather was bad, so bad that it furnished the chief topic of conversation throughout the car. Our train was hours late, every one seemed weary, and the dreary chill outside found reflection in the minds of the travelers. I fell to thinking of the affairs of the nation and the world as illustrated by conditions which seemed to depress the minds of my fellow travelers Everywhere it was stormy weather. Life had become strangely difficult and uncertain. Progress was slowing down. The minds of the people were distressed and dissatisfied. I began to wonder if there were any ameliorating circumstances, any light to relieve the dismal shadows. As my mind turned in this direction, I was almost surprised to find many hopeful things to think about, and, yielding to a journalistic instinct, I began to map out a series of what might be called “Cheer-up Articles.”

My cogitations at that point were interrupted pleasantly. A sweet-faced little woman came down the car aisle and, after a moment’s hesitation, stopped and spoke to me. She had listened the night before to an address which I had delivered in Albany and she wished to express her appreciation. It was certainly a welcome relief from the universal chorus of disapproval as to the weather and other human ills which had been sounding in my ears during our journey. Besides, the lady with her sweet, intellectual face, crowned by a wealth of white hair, looked like the fine old-fashioned New England women whom I had learned to reverence in my youth. And I was glad for the privilege of speaking with one of her type.

Soon we were deep in talk and I found that I had been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of one of the nation builders, Miss Mary L. Titcomb, Librarian of the Washington County Free Library at Hagerstown, Maryland.

The ALA Working in America

The ALA Working in America

What One Community Is Doing

Here was my first “cheer-up” article, for from Miss Titcomb I learned of the great constructive work being done by the American Library Association and of its plans for still greater things in the near future. I was almost ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of the County Library work until Miss Titcomb placed in my hands the facts.

In 1900 the Washington County Library was organized at Hagerstown, the county seat, in western Maryland. The original Board of Trustees were a German Reformed minister, two lawyers, a banker, a paper-maker, a farmer and a merchant. They had in mind the diffusion of information and culture by cultivation of the reading habit, especially among the rural sections of Washington County which has a population, including the county seat, of some fifty thousand people, almost exclusively engaged in agriculture.


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