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(1850) Samuel Ringgold Ward, “Speech on the Fugitive Slave Bill”

Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817-1864), was one of the most prominent of the anti-slavery speakers in the nation by the 1850s. Born into slavery in Maryland, he escaped with his mother to New Jersey. In 1834 when he was 17 Ward was attacked by a pro-slavery mob in New York and was temporarily jailed. From that point he dedicated himself to the anti-slavery cause. By the 1840s, Ward helped found the Liberty and Free Soil Parties. Ward work variously as a school teacher, newspaper editor and minister. He led two predominately white congregations, a Presbyterian Church in South Butler, New York and a Congregationalist church in Cortland, New York. However after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 he moved to Canada. Ward remained outside the United States for the rest of his life, lecturing in Canada and Europe against slavery. In 1855 he wrote The Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro. Ward retired to Jamaica and died there in 1864. In the speech that appears below, Ward, speaking in Faneuil Hall in Boston, criticizes the then ongoing debate in Congress over the Fugitive Slave Bill.

I am here tonight simply as a guest. You have met here to speak of the sentiments of a Senator of your State whose remarks you have the honor to repudiate. In the course of the remarks the gentleman who preceded me, he has done us the favor to make honorable mention of a Senator of my own State—Wm. H. Seward.

I thank you for this manifestation of approbation of a man who has always stood head and shoulders above his party, and who has never receded from his position on the question of slavery. It was my happiness to receive a letter from him a few days since, in which he said he never would swerve from his position as the friend of freedom.

To be sure, I agree not with Senator Seward in politics, but when an individual stands up for the rights of men against slaveholders, I care not for party distinctions. He is my brother.

We have here much of common cause and interest in this matter. That infamous bill of Mr. Mason, of Virginia, proves

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