Northern Opposition to the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad consisted of a collection of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century enslaved American people to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.

Several earlier (pre-Revolutionary War) routes existed for getting slaves away, but the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the early 19th century, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the “Railroad”.

Following Union victory in the Civil War, on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery. After its passage, in some cases the Underground Railroad operated in the opposite direction, as fugitives returned to the United States.

There were people opposed to the work done by these people as you can see in this article reprinted in the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1858.


From The Syracuse Courier:

“Several prominent citizens of New York are soon to be exposed as “freight agents” on the Underground Railroad. Perhaps it may leak out that some of the “conductors” reside in this city.” — Washington Union

This announcement of the Washington Union should appear under the head of “Important if true.” We are at a loss to conceive how it has been possible, thus far, for the U. S. authorities in this vicinity, or those civil magistrates of the State of New York who have taken up the oath to support the Constitution of the State of New York, and to discharge the duties of their respective offices to the best of their ability, to ignore the flagrant outrages upon the Constitution and Laws of the United States which are not only perpetrated, but publicly applauded by prominent citizens of Syracuse.

National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation with printed materials. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters.
The so-called “Agent of the Underground Railroad” not only stalks through our streets in open noon-day, but publicly drives along his wagon-loads of deluded “fugitives,” and boastingly appropriates the funds placed at his disposal to pay their way to Canada. At this season of the year, it is not unusual to see three or four a day passed along in this way to the realms of her Britannic Majesty.

A few days ago, we found in the columns of an English newspaper the regular proceedings of an organized association for the purpose of raising and forwarding funds for the American Anti-Slavery Society at Boston. Whether our government can really interfere with the operations of this meddlesome and impertinent organization we do not know; but we really think that if we are the imbecile and helpless people that such an organization presumes us to be, we had better realize the fact at once.

For our part, we believe that the United States have enough vitality and energy to repel this insidious and insulting interference with their institutions, and that there is not a State in the Union (except Massachusetts) so deficient in patriotism as to suffer under the workings of this “malignant philanthropy” for a single day.

We rejoice, therefore, to see the announcement in the Washington Union that some of the prominent citizens of New York are to be shown up in their connection with the Underground Railroad.

It is about time that this open defiance of our laws should be signally and effectually rebuked. It is about time the City Hall of Syracuse should cease to be prostituted to the orgies and “donation visits” of the Rev. Mr. Loguen and his confederates, and that the swindling and treason of those operators, “conductors” and local agents should be shown up, for the benefit of their dupes and for the benefit of society.

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