Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2007

Publication Source

Virginia Law Review

Abstract

Ableman v. Booth occupies a significant place in constitutional history for upholding the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and presenting the antebellum Supreme Court’s theory of federalism. This note presents a new interpretation of the states’ rights movement in Wisconsin that necessitated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ableman and argues that, viewed in this historical context, the decision was a complete failure. When a fugitive slave was captured in Milwaukee, Wisconsonites wished to reject the principles of the Fugitive Slave Act in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act but were not yet willing to violate the law.

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin enabled social change by providing the people with states’ rights as a legal basis to reject the Fugitive Slave Act. Federal attempts to vindicate the Fugitive Slave Act, culminating in Ableman, created a backlash that transformed states’ rights into a popular movement. Party politics exacerbated this backlash, as Republicans opportunistically used states’ rights against the more moderate Democrats. As a result, states’ rights controlled every major election in Wisconsin and nearly precipitated a civil war. Moreover, Ableman nearly pushed other states to use states’ rights to challenge the federal government, as national antislavery leaders hoped to use the theory for their own goals. Conflict was averted only because the theory became inconvenient for Republicans in the 1860 presidential election, not because of federal coercion resulting from Ableman.

Inclusive pages

1315-1354

ISBN/ISSN

0042-6601

Document Version

Published Version

Comments

Document is made available for download by permission of the Virginia Law Review Association. The Virginia Law Review can be purchased here. Link to article on publisher's website.

Permission documentation is on file.

Publisher

Virginia Law Review Association

Volume

93

Issue

5

Volume

93

Issue

5

Peer Reviewed

yes


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