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The Fight With Slavery
by [?]

Almost from the beginning Ohio was called the Yankee state by her Southern neighbors. Burr had found her people too plodding for him, as he said, and it would not have been strange if the older slave-holding communities on her southern and eastern border had seen with distrust and dislike the advance of the young free state, and had given her that nickname partly out of envy and partly out of contempt. Their citizens were high-spirited and generous, but they had not the public spirit which New England had imparted to Ohio, for public spirit comes from equality and from the feeling for others’ rights, and the very supremacy which the slaveholders enjoyed was fatal to this feeling. Virginia and Kentucky were rich in independent character, but public spirit is better than this, for it cares for the independence of all through the self-sacrifice of each. That was the secret which Ohio early learned from New England, and which kept her safe from slavery when it pressed so hard upon her in the friendship as well as the enmity of her neighbors.

We know that the Northwestern Territory was devoted to freedom by the law that created it, but we have seen that slavery was kept out of Ohio by one vote only when her first constitution was adopted; and for a very long time there was a very large party favorable to slavery in our state. It will seem strange to many of my readers that Ohio people of color were once not only not allowed to vote, but were not allowed to give testimony in the courts of law. They were treated in this like the Southern slaves, and in fact there was really a sort of slaveholding in Ohio, in spite of the law. In the river counties many farmers hired slaves from their masters in Virginia and Kentucky; and when the Southerners traveled through Ohio, they brought their slaves into the state with them, and took them out again. But when the conscience of the Northern people began to stir against slavery, the Ohio abolitionists coaxed away the slaves of these Southern travelers and sojourners, and this, with the constant escape of runaway slaves by their help, infuriated the friends of slavery inside as well as outside of the state. The abolitionists had what they called the Underground Railroad, with stations at their houses in town and country, and they sped the fugitives from one to another till they reached Canada. Their enemies accused them of tempting slaves across the Ohio, in order to give them their freedom, and in a little while the rage against them broke out in mobs and riots.

It would not be easy to trace here the course of events which led to these outbreaks. It is no doubt true that the abolitionists were often rash, if not reckless, and that when they were maddened by the coldness or the hostility of the people to the cause of human freedom they did not stop at some acts which, though they were righteous enough, were unlawful. It was unlawful to harbor runaway slaves, but they did it gladly, and they appealed to the passions as well as the consciences of men in their hate of the sum of all villainies, as John Wesley called slavery. They not only met their foes half way, they carried the war into the hearts and homes of the enemy. From time to time wicked and sorrowful things happened to fret their fanaticism and keep it at a white heat. Peaceable negroes were attacked in their homes by ruffianly whites, their cattle killed, their fields wasted; and sometimes they made a bloody resistance. They were not always harmless, and they were not always pleasant neighbors. Slavery was a bad school, for the slaves as well as the masters; and the negroes, when not vicious and dishonest, were degraded and ignorant, for the public schools were shut against them, and they could not read, any more than they could vote or bear witness. So it is not strange that they should have been hunted and harried everywhere in Southern Ohio.