Department of Justice Honors Slave Catchers for Their Service to the Law

fuck off, slaversAnthony Burns: A History/HarvardThe Department of Justice has a “roll call” page listing federal marshals and possemen who died in the line of duty to “honor their memory and their sacrifice”. The list includes at least two men who died while trying to capture fugitive slaves in the 1850s. Edward Gorsuch, the second entry on the list, was a slave owner killed while trying to capture six of his fugitive slaves. From the Maryland State Archives:

Gorsuch received a letter from William Padgett, a farm worker in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, saying that he knew where his slaves were hiding.  Gorsuch gathered some of his family members and local whites and headed to Pennsylvania via train.  Once in Philadelphia, they met up up with Deputy Federal Marshal Henry Kline, completed the necessary paperwork, and then continued in pursuit of the escaped slaves.  On September 11, 1851, as Gorsuch, his party, and Padgett were making their way to capture the slaves.  Early on they were spotted by one of the slaves, who then hid in the home of William Parker, a known Black abolitionist in Christiana, a small town in Lancaster County.  Parker met Gorsuch and his party at the door and refused to give the slaves up. As Parker confronted Gorsuch, Parker's wife Eliza opened a second floor window and blew a horn, which was an alarm for local African Americans.  She was shot at (but not hit) by a member of Gorsuch's entourage, but not before townspeople armed with guns and various weapons responded to the alarm.  Gunfire was exchanged, and Gorsuch's son, Dickinson, was badly wounded but managed to flee to a nearby cornfield. Edward Gorsuch himself was killed.  Thirty-six Blacks and five white men were indicted for high treason against the United States as a result of the so-called 'Christina Riot.'  All of the defendants were found not guilty.

The third man on the DOJ list, James Batchelder, was a courthouse guard killed while trying to prevent the rescue of a fugitive slave. From the description of an illustration depicting the return of the slave (pictured above), via Harvard:

In May of 1854, slave catchers captured Anthony Burns in Boston. While held at the courthouse, an abolitionist mob led by Lewis Hayden, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and others attempted to rescue the fugitive by battering down the doors with a fence rail. In the melee, a pistol shot struck and killed James Batchelder, one of the courthouse guards. In response, a large contingent of soldiers escorted Burns out of Boston and back into slavery which triggered a massive abolitionist protest.

The law, right or wrong.

JD Tuccille wrote about a similar fugitive slave case in explaining why he teaches his child its ok to break the law sometimes.

Both Gorsuch and Batchelder also appear on the Officer Down Memorial Page.

h/t the anonymous Eduard van Haalen

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Most awesome alt-text EVER!

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Yep. I declare a winner.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    AGREED!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I'll be in my bunk.

  • Robert||

    Wait a minute...do I see the 5th from the left in the front row actually fucking off?

  • Lord Humungus||

    h/t the anonymous Eduard van Haalen

    hiding behind his flaming mask of justice!

  • ||

    He's pseudonymous, not anonymous.

  • Ed||

    I give you an adjective in the h/t and you nitpick. This is why you can't have nice things

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    +1 rebuke

  • Hugh Akston||

    Gorsuch's story needs to be a movie.

  • Tak Kak||

    I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of U.S. Marshals have been "slavers," to some extent at least.

  • some guy||

    Imagine a world where the legal and moral overlapped perfectly. Now compare that world to our world. Now stop imagining that before you die of depression. There, I saved your life. You owe me.

  • Matrix||

    problem is, some people think it is their moral duty to forcibly take from one group and give to another. They imagine themselves as modern day Robin Hoods. They forget that Robin Hood was stealing from tax collectors and corrupt government officials, not entrepreneurs and businessmen.

  • The Original Jason||

    Robin Hood did attempt to rob the (presumably) entrepreneurial Gamble Gold, the Bold Pedlar, but ended up recruiting him.

  • Killazontherun||

    If we ever meet, a beer?

  • ||

    If you ever meet a beer, what?

  • Killazontherun||

    Read some guy's last sentence, then read my response. I promise, it will come to you.

  • Tamfang||

    By the way, which Zakalwe is your eponym?

  • A Serious Man||

    But the Federal government is good and protects us from the tyranny of state governments! Without it who would capture the fugitive slaves?

  • ||

    Oh look, there seemed to be a hell of a lot of people who were opposed to slavery, enough that they would actually act on it. Imagine that.

  • ||

    The past is a different country, and 1851 Americans were a completely different people than us. Some of them had morals and would act on them.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Just wait until they expand the list to include neighborhood watchmen.

  • Dweebston||

    The DOJ needs to double down in this and publish an honorarium for every officer who has ever discharged a weapon in the service of the state. Heroes like the cops who mistook two elderly Asian women for a single black man.

  • Calidissident||

    I believe they were actually Hispanic. I suppose they could have been Filipino (they definitely had Spanish last names) but I haven't seen anything to confirm or support that

  • Jordan||

    Progressivism in a nutshell.

  • MWG||

    Well, teh law iz teh law...

  • Jordan||

    "DERPMOCRACY!"

  • Ska||

    Oooh, good sequel.

  • A Serious Man||

    The whole military force of the State is at the service of a Mr. Suttle, a slaveholder from Virginia, to enable him to catch a man whom he calls his property; but not a soldier is offered to save a citizen of Massachusetts from being kidnapped! Is this what all these soldiers, all this training, have been for these seventy-nine years past? Have they been trained merely to rob Mexico and carry back fugitive slaves to their masters?

    Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts

    Clearly a libertarian, showing that we have been polluting American politics for a century and a half with our dangerous anti-government views.

  • The Sego Sago Kid||

    Huh, I never heard that story. Makes me proud to be a Lancaster County native. Telling slavers to fuck off since 1851.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Also home of the snitch.

  • The Sego Sago Kid||

    True. But I imagine when he was found out, he got an Amish style beatdown. Those bearded fucks seem peaceful but they do not pull any punches.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Fuck the Amish. Seriously, my dream is to conquer their home territories and steal all of their cocaine money, then distribute it to their abused children. After that, Rumspringa for all.

  • Nazdrakke||

    If abused children is the price society must pay for an authentic Amish breakfast house I am willing to concede it to them.

  • The Sego Sago Kid||

    Wait it out. Maple Syrup Urine Disease will eradicate them far quicker than you, as one man, will be able to.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Town I grew up in in PA was part of the Underground Railroad, but after a proper public education it became apparent that it obviously was just a clever ploy to oppress and rob minorities, because people in the north just wanted to preserve the union and totally were fine with slavery, or something.

  • Killazontherun||

    Well, that settles that, Apu, you know what you have to do.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8VCbvMoCV8

  • ||

    The law, right or wrong.

    Speaking of scum, is Tulpa still alive?

  • ||

    Was he a 14 year old black boy in New Orleans? Then maybe not.

  • SugarFree||

    Speaking of scum, is Tulpa still alive?

    Once he decided that my posts were too scary to read, the joy went out of it for him.

    "That mean old SugarFree points out to people when I herp-de-derp my herp-a-derp. I'll just run away. Boo-hoo. Boo-hoo."

  • ||

    Whatever, white line. I totally didn't unhide you to read your comment, so I have no idea what you were saying in that comment. I don't even know who you are. Maybe if your intellect was as gigantic as mine, you'd understant that.

  • SugarFree||

    "Address parsing is like totally easy. See? I can do while rimming a police dog!"

  • db||

    I always wondered at the kind of logic that praised John Brown but tut-tutted his methods. Of course, taking up arms against slavery is only good when you are a state that has previously enabled and encouraged slavery; bad when you are a private citizen.

  • Gladstone||

    You know which other private citizen took up arms against what he thought was slavery?

  • Tak Kak||

    Timothy McVeigh?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Oliver Cromwell?

  • Tak Kak||

    Dick was a private citizen?

  • Gladstone||

    Would an MP have counted as a "private citizen" back then?

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Hamlet? Oh, wait that was a sea of troubles...my bad.

  • db||

    Of course, Brown himself would probably have approved of the Civil War solely as a means to end slavery. He also would probably have endorsed US miltary action in Syria, Libya, etc.

  • Gladstone||

    Well Thoreau supported Brown so I think that is sufficient to show that Thoreau wasn't a "peace activist."

  • Tak Kak||

    Libertarian logic?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    I always wondered at the kind of logic that praised John Brown but tut-tutted his methods.

    Then you wonder about Frederick Douglass, not known as a slavery-coddler. Brown asked for help with the revolt, but Douglass refused, and warned him that it would do more harm than good.

    Considering that it spurred the southern states to build up their previously-decrepit militias, it's likely that Brown's raid gave the South much more confidence about starting a war with the north a few years hence. So I've gotta go with Douglass on that one.

    Slave catchers operating on free soil, on the other hand, I'd consider fair game for target practice.

  • MappRapp||

    Dude is making all knids of crazy sense. Wow.

    www.Global-Anon.com

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    are those knids the normal ones, or the Vicious specie what ate the Oompa Loompas?

  • Azathoth!!||

    Vermicious, just FYI

  • SugarFree||

    The law is the law. If you don't like a law then vote to change it. If you are a slave and can't vote, then fuck you. How dare you run down these brave officers that were just following orders in a corrupt system where moral law is applicable only based on skin color.

    Peanut butter. Slander. Snowballs.

  • db||

    Peanut butter. Slander. Snowballs.

    What are things that go in and out of your mouth, Trebek?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Peanut Butter? I missed that.

  • SugarFree||

    Tulpa talks about peanut butter being the best food. He stopped doing that when he slipped up and admitted to being 260 lbs.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yeah, but how tall is he?

  • SugarFree||

    He can't be too tall. He drives some tiny shitbox of a car.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • SugarFree||

    Oh, the irony.

  • KDN||

    He drives some tiny shitbox of a car.

    Toyota Echo, which considering his opinions on speed and light cameras and DUI checks is oh so fitting. And it gets egged twice per year by the neighborhood kids, though I can't imagine why.

  • T||

    I like my peanut butter snowballs without slander. Less greasy that way.

  • Brendan||

    Yeah, it was too early in history to invoke Somalia, ROADZZ, Schoooollllzzz

  • Marshal||

    These two cases don't belong together. Not only was the first guy actively enslaving someone he (or his group) also started the gunfight. The second guy was doing his job.

  • SugarFree||

    James Batchelder, was a courthouse guard killed while trying to prevent the rescue of a fugitive slave.

    He was just following orders?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    You have to admit that's kind of a tricky case. Should the courthouse guards just let Bradley Manning go?

  • SugarFree||

    Considering there is no possibility that Anthony Burns performed an immoral act that led to his incarceration or initial condition of chattel slavery, the situations are not exactly analogous.

    Batchelder could have quit his job or merely stood aside as Burns was freed. He participated in an immoral system in support of an immoral law, and paid the price for it.

    At the very least, he's no hero to be lauded.

  • califernian||

    "The second guy was doing his job of actively enslaving someone "

  • Jgalt1975||

    +1 The first guy clearly doesn't deserve any honor or recognition -- from the facts here, it's questionable whether he was even lawfully acting as a marshal and the shootout was precipitated by his own men's use of excessive force. The second guy is more of a borderline case because even if he passionately disagreed with the morality of slavery, he still was obliged as part of his job to prevent a mob from breaking into the courthouse.

  • Agammamon||

    That has about as much affect on my sympathy for him as the argument that the DEA is just doing its job has on my sympathy for *them*.

  • Marshal||

    A DEA agent joins to enforce drug laws, it's their core mission. I don't see how becoming a court guard in Boston includes similar implicit support for slavery.

    I'm not saying the guy is a hero, only that these cases are vastly different. One is an example of someone fully supporting slavery and taking advantage of slaveholders' ability to force complicity on everyone, on top of a reckless disregard for life. The second guy is an example of how everyday choices can have unforeseen consequences. One day he's looking for a job and suddenly finds himself forced to choose between upholding an immoral law (which for all we know he was dead against) and continued employment.

  • Calidissident||

    If you are willing to actively preserve the enslavement of another man in order to preserve your job, I have no sympathy for you

  • Marshal||

    SugarFree|7.29.13 @ 3:24PM|#

    He was just following orders?

    Godwin alert!

    Note how the generalization implicitly increases his culpability, rather than focusing on what he did. From the original source you can't even tell if he was actively impeding the rescue. Even if so he's a guy who went to work one day and this circumstance found him. He didn't seek out the opportunity to enforce slavery.

  • db||

    I think the more important question here is what would you, Marshal, have done?

  • Marshal||

    There's no meaningful way to place yourself within such a different historical context. Just as we'd all like to think we would have been among the Germans hiding Jews during WWII we'd also like to think we would have been helping slaves on the underground railroad or otherwise meaningfully resisting slavery.

    But if we were there our education and the other elements that cause us to want that would have been radically different.

  • Adam330||

    That may well be, but it doesn't excuse the DoJ of today "honoring" him.

  • Robert||

    Or you might've been a raccoon, or a door knob. Then what would you have done? You can't just change one thing.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    "There is a mob trying to break in to free a slave!"

    And he did what....?

  • SugarFree||

    Sorry, but there is little else to compare chattel slavery in America to other than the Holocaust. Just as every guard of a concentration camp is deemed culpable of the genocide that occurred within, so are the slave-hunters and jailers of runaway slaves. The Nazis rationalized their actions in exact the same manner, by denying the humanity of those they were oppressing. Even under the corrupt and sickening laws of the Fugitive Slave Act there were numerous freedmen that were re-enslaved or born-free Blacks that were sold into slavery. Everyone knew this, it wasn't some secret. They just didn't care or thought it was right.

  • Marshal||

    Just as every guard of a concentration camp is deemed culpable of the genocide that occurred within,

    The analogy to the concentration camp guard would be to the plantation guards, not a court guard in a northern (free-state) city. The better comparison would be to a military installation guard in France. Someone whose normal duties had nothing to do with the final solution, but who through coincidence had a tangential involvement.

  • SugarFree||

    The act of detaining a escaped Jew in order for them to be returned to a concentration camp is also an immoral act.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    But his milk was soooo delicious!

  • creech||

    The sainted Robert E. Lee's army took some 1,000 blacks back into slavery after the Gettysburg campaign. They scooped up every black they could catch, even if they were fifth generation freemen. That fact isn't widely publicized by Lost Causers.

  • Gladstone||

    Hey didn't Locke invest in the slave trade? And wrote up the fundamental laws of the Carolinas that permitted slavery?

  • Robert||

    OK, say they thought it was right. Would you rather people go against their conscience? Yeah, I know, ideally everybody should obey your conscience; if you don't think that, what good is it at all?

  • ||

    I'm not sure what you're point is. They didn't think slavery was wrong, thus we should memorialize them and praise their work in support of slavery, simply because they worked for the state?

  • Gladstone||

    I do wonder what the people here would have done back in the 1850s-1860s. I imagine there would have been difficulty between pragmatism and idealism over abolishing slavery and lots of disagreements over whether or not to support John Brown, Abe Lincoln, the Republicans, the Civil War or abolitionists who included many Christfags and prohibitionists.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    There are a lot of people here (and at other quasi-libertarian sites) who think the US should have let the Confederacy go peacefully. Anti-federal animus trumps concerns over personal liberty sometimes.

    At the beginning of his presidency, Lincoln offered to support a constitutional amendment barring any future federal anti-slavery amendments or laws, if Virginia would promise not to secede. He was more about keeping the union together than ending slavery.

  • IceTrey||

    Fun fact: the Christiana Riot occurred on... wait for it...9/11.

  • Robert||

    Was that in New Sweden?

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Today's alt text is brought to you by Daenerys Targaryen.

  • Ed||

    Comment winner

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Did an actual US Marshal post here? If so, my troll-fu is the best!

  • Lyle||

    Is Reason in favor of getting rid of the Jefferson Memorial too?

    Slavery was more constitutional than the right to bear arms motherfuckers!

  • Calidissident||

    "Is Reason in favor of getting rid of the Jefferson Memorial too?"

    Jefferson, for all his faults, at least made positive contributions to liberty and America. Can the same be said of these guys?

    "Slavery was more constitutional than the right to bear arms motherfuckers!"

    How?

    And why am I not surprised to see you taking this viewpoint?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Article 4 details a fugitive slave return procedure, so slavery was actually enabled by the Constitution itself, rather than a later amendment.

  • ||

    OJFC

  • Boisfeuras||

    The same Jefferson who wrote this denunciation of slavery in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence?

    He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.

    He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable Commerce, determined to keep open a Markett where Men should be bought and sold, and that this assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die.

    He is now exciting those very People to rise in Arms among us, and to purchase their Liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the People upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off, former Crimes committed against the Liberties of one People, with Crimes which he urges them to commit against the Lives of another...
  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    To paraphrase Mal Reynolds in the Jaynestown episode, the Jefferson Memorial isn't about Jefferson, it's about what we Americans need. "Every man who had a statue made of him was some kind of sonofabitch or other"

  • MappRapp||

    These guys jsut know man.

    www.Global-Anon.com

  • Robert||

    What's the point? Don't they usually memorialize the dead on both sides in every war? They can't both have been right, could they?

    Haven't you watched enough Tarantino (esp. Reservoir Dogs to know that to the person in that position at the time, who's ultimately in the right is of no consequence? And once they're dead they have no chance to express a change in mind, so why not honor that "Oh, shit!" moment they must've felt when they got killed?

  • The Original Jason||

    During the Progressive Era, the United Daughters of the Confederacy established memorial to "Our Confederate Dead" all over the US, even in counties and states that had not supplied troops to the South.

    And the Confederate cause was unpopular in the South by the end of the war, too.

    Sherman's Army was growing in size as it made its way through Georgia as Confederate deserters and slaves from captured farms joined Sherman's March to the Sea.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    War is different; soldiers' motivations for fighting are often ambiguous. I don't have a problem with a slaveless guy fighting for the honor of Alabama in the Civil War, but I would have a problem with a guy fighting so he could keep his slaves.

    The first guy was explicitly trying to bring a free man back to slavery, so fuck him. The second guy probably should have stood aside, officer safety being the first concern.

  • Azathoth!!||

    I just love morons who gaze back into history with their PC glasses. They're so cool.

    (and they wear them at night!!!!!)

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement