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The New Brighton Resolution of 1850: Milestones Special Issue

Milestones Vol 30. No. 2

Passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 brought opposition to slavery to a white heat in Beaver County. This law provided that those who sheltered runaway slaves could be fined up to $1000 and be imprisoned for six months. An especially effective worker on the railroad could have a $1000 reward placed on his head. The passage of this law never seemed to daunt the New Brighton Quakers or the Bradfords. The only precaution that some took was to place their property in the hands of friends so they could not lose it if ordered to pay the $1000 fine.

In response to that law, a meeting was held in New Brighton on December 6, 1850, to express the disapproval of the citizens. A committee--consisting of Dr. Isaac Winans, Timothy B. White, Dr. Charles Weaver, and James Erwin--was appointed to draw up the resolutions which follow:

Whereas ,

At the late session of congress, a law was passed, making it obligatory on all citizens to assist in restoring the fugitive slave to his master, we, a few of the citizens of Beaver county, Pa. deem it our duty to peaceably assemble and declare the following sentiments:

Resolved , That we believe in the self-evident truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are born free and equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, amongst which are life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness."

Resolved , That the first being true, this government, which derives all its authority from the governed, has no power to enslave a human being guilty of no crime.

Resolved , That therefore all laws enslaving a portion of the human family, who have no voice in making them, is [sic.] contrary to the principles of this government.

Resolved , That any law that makes it obligatory upon us to enslave a human being, is not binding on us, and we will treat all such laws with contempt, as we cannot become instrumental in enforcing them.

Resolved , That we will hold up to public contempt any man that will accept the office of commissioner, marshal or deputy marshal, or in any way aid in the return of fugitives from slavery (Warner 248).

The following petition was also drawn up at that meeting:

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

We, the undersigned, citizens of Beaver County, Penn., believing the Fugitive Slave Bill to be unjust, and in violation of the constitution, do ask its immediate repeal. (Warner 248).