The Fugitive Slave Law
Delivered by the Rev. Rufus Clark,
May 3, 1857,
To the Congregation of the
South Ridge Free Will Baptist Church,
as printed in
The Conneaut Reporter

“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 choose in one of thy gates, where he liketh him best; thou shall not oppress him.” - Bible

This is a divine command, and it declares the imperative duty of every man on whom the fugitive call for help. He cannot innocently excuse himself. It is his duty to obey God rather than man. He must feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and labor to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free. To refuse such acts of benevolence toward the needy when they cry, would be to refuse the most ordinary duties of Christianity. It is not, therefore, left optional with the people of the Northern States to observe or reject this duty as they may feel disposed. In God’s eye they cannot, without an express violation of his law, refrain from active obedience.

Think of the fearful deed done by returning a fugitive into slavery! He is returned into crime – into crime against nature and against God. If we give up the panting slave who comes to us holding out both hands, crying for help when the bloody hands of the master and his marshal demand him, you give him up to be sold down the river into eternal bondage, or to be sent into the dismal swamp, or to be whipped or burned to death as a warning to other slaves, if they should allow the love of freedom to swell in their bosoms. A mater some years since, who recaptured his runaway slave, called together his field hands, sat deliberately down in a circle and began to lecture them on the evil consequences if they should attempt an escape from slavery. And as he progressed in his remarks, he took his broad-axe and chopped off the limbs of his victim, casting them into the fire which he had kindled for that purpose. The poor slave screamed, pleading with his master to cut off his head first. But this fiend in human shape went deliberately on until he had cut off his legs and arms, when he cast the trunk into the fire to share the same fate. Now, for us to allow a fugitive to be taken from his master back into slavery, is for us to allow the poor creature to go into the most fearful tortures – yes, into the very hell of American slavery. By this we do not mean to say it is probable that every fugitive would share just such a fate as we have described, but it is a general principle with slave holders to give the returned runaway the most severe treatment in the system.

That Congressional enactment (we cannot call it a law,) which commands the rendition of fugitives, should be disregarded by every man. It should prompt within us that feeling which swelled Jefferson’s bosom when he uttered that noble sentiment: “The Almighty has no attribute that can take sides in such a contest” against liberty. We should found fighting against the Higher Law. A wiser than Jefferson has said, “Rob not the poor, because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause and spoil the soul of those who spoil them.” - Prov. 22: 22, 23. 1