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A state has the same undeniable and unlimited jurisdiction over all persons and things within its territorial limits as any foreign nation when that jurisdiction is not surrendered or restrained by the Constitution of the United States… Roger Taney

For a concise history of the events read the author’s article in the Washington Post which will at least save you reading the whole book. One of the most remarkable things that comes out of the story is that the “slaves” in question by and large were employed a household servants by prosperous families and probably had better lives than many free blacks or other citizens. The owner and crew of the PEARL were well paid and were far less interested in abolition than they were in moving a valuable cargo – they had at least this in common with the slavers bring cargoes of misery out of africa.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book – and one of the least explored – is the rise of abolitionism concurrently with the rise of revolution in Europe. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx are all contemporaries and the similarities do not end there. Wilson’s attorney general Thomas W. Gregory and his successor Alexander Mitchell Palmer would do their best to stamp out sedition fifty plus years later without ever realizing that the whole tradition from Lincoln through Wilson was riddled with legal principles that would allow what their nemesis Lenin proclaimed as the “permanent revolution”.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 would be one of the results of this dilettante’s effort at protest and would bring far more misery than this so-called heroic bid for freedom would bring relief and the chief justice of the supreme court would issue an opinion in 1857 in the case of Dred Scott in language remarkably similar to Lincoln’s when he said, “It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

All of the history of racism and slavery was, as Taney said, “a blot on our national character,” but far worse were the political machinations that allowed opposition to slavery to be used as an incendiary to help start a civil war, destroy republican government forever,  create the current climate of entitlement – which has proved more destructive to the black race than slavery ever did – and create a more profoundly divisive society than existed before the civil war.

Escape on the Pearl : the heroic bid for freedom on the Underground Railroad    New York : William Morrow, c 2007  Mary Kay Ricks Fugitive slaves Washington Region History 19th century Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xi, 432 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [373]-416) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

On the evening of April 15, 1848, nearly eighty enslaved Americans attempted one of history’s most audacious escapes. Setting sail from Washington, D.C., on a schooner named the Pearl, the fugitives began a daring 225-mile journey to freedom in the North — and put in motion a furiously fought battle over slavery in America that would consume Congress, the streets of the capital, and the White House itself.

Mary Kay Ricks’s unforgettable chronicle brings to life the Underground Railroad’s largest escape attempt, the seemingly immutable politics of slavery, and the individuals who struggled to end it. Escape on the Pearl reveals the incredible odyssey of those who were onboard, including the remarkable lives of fugitives Mary and Emily Edmonson, the two sisters at the heart of this true story of courage and determination.


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