In the decades following the American Revolution, the new nation was deeply divided. As countless enslaved people risked their lives to seek refuge in the free North, Congress struck a deal—the Compromise of 1850—to soothe the mounting tensions between Northerners who opposed slavery and Southerners who demanded the return of their human “property.” That tenuous balance finally collapsed with the eruption of the Civil War in 1861. Experts examine how fugitive slaves shaped the American story.
Andrew Delbanco is Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and the author of The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. Brent Staples (moderator) writes for the New York Times editorial board.
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