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Archive for September, 2016

Now available: the “Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw” debate, on anarchism and political compromise, from the pages of Liberty, 1886


In the Spring and Summer of 1886, a number of the contributors to Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchist newspaper Liberty debated the value of political compromise. The debate intersected with other debates that Tucker, Henry Appleton and Gertrude B. Kelly, as well as Dyer Lum and others, were engaged in over participation in the Knights of Labor, the relationship between anarchist radicalism and organized labor movements, and other long-running debates over social reform, Irish land politics, Malthusianism, sexual liberation, and so on. In the debate, the images that Tucker used for reasoning from radical principle, and adopting compromise stances in an effort to persuade indirectly — the plumb-line and the cork-screw — remained as characteristic phrases in individualist anarchist literature throughout the remaining decades of Liberty and its circle, with the term plumb-line Anarchism or plumb-line Individualism came to be used often as a in-group label for Tucker’s school of individualist anarchist thought. (See, for example, Will and Lizzie Holmes’s reference to our old plumbline friends decades later in Instead of a Magazine.)

Now at fair-use.org, I’ve made available full HTML hypertext transcriptions of 11 articles from the debate, including contributions by Henry Appleton, Benjamin Tucker, Gertrude B. Kelly, Victor S. Yarros, J. William Lloyd, and the pseudonymous D.D. The debate as a whole is collected here, at fair-use.org; the individual articles now available online are:

  1. X. Anarchism and Expediency in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4.
  2. T. Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw, Which? in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4-5.
  3. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 1.
  4. X. and T. Liberty and Compromise in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 4-5.
  5. V. Yarros. The Plumb-Line at New Haven in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 8.
  6. J. Wm. Lloyd. Plumb-Centre in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  7. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  8. X. The Nub of It All in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  9. D.D. and Editor Liberty. Plumb-Line and Cork-Screw in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  10. Gertrude B. Kelly. Justice or Force, Which? in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 7.
  11. X. and T. Anarchistic Small Fry in Liberty IV.6 (#84). 4-5.

From John V. Denson, “Slavery Laws in Alabama” (1908), Part II: Runaways

This text is transcribed from John V. Denson’s 1908 pamphlet, Slavery Laws in Alabama. The booklet was originally published as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series. John V. Denson was a student and later GTA instructor at Alabama Polytechnic for History and Latin, later a prominent lawyer in the Auburn-Opelika area. Like most of the historical studies from Alabama Polytechnic (now Auburn University) from the first decade of the 1900s, the pamphlet apologizes for Southern slavery, and adopts a point of view that is at times frankly white supremacist. The pamphlet begins with a discussion of the law of manumission; here is the next section, on the law concerning fugitive slaves.

[7] RUNAWAYS: The laws of Alabama relating to runaways were never cruel and never overstepped the bounds of conservative measures for the recovery of property. The act of 1805, in Secs. 12 and 13, provided that runaway slaves[9] might be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who should commit such runaway to jail or send to his master, who was to pay a fee of six dollars and reasonable costs and charges, and further, that all slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., were to be taken by force by the patrol, at the direction of the justice of the peace, and committed to jail, the provost’s remuneration being thirty dollars paid by the state, three-fourths of which were to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes. By the act of 1809[10] it was provided that [8] when a runaway slave was committed to jail and was not claimed by the owner within six months after the first publication of commitment, the sheriff should sell such slave, the proceeds going to the county; but if the owner should afterwards assert and prove his title, he could recover the amount paid to the county for the slave, but could not divest the title of the purchaser of such runaway, the time for such claim being limited in 1848 to five years after first publication.[11]

A slave found at a distance of eight miles from his master’s plantation without a pass from his master, or one who had lain out more than two days without leave of his master, was considered a runaway.

The penalty visited upon any person who knowingly aided any negro or any other slave to runaway or depart from his master’s service was imprisonment in the penitentiary [9] for a term of not less than two nor more than five years.[12]

So far as I have been able to discover there never existed in Alabama any statute, as there did in other states, providing for the outlawing of runaway slaves. In 1741 there was such a statute in North Carolina, providing that, Any person may lawfully kill a slave who has been outlawed for running away and lurking in swamps, etc.,[13] and a similar statute existed earlier in Virginia. In Maryland and the District of Columbia a similar law existed providing that when a slave should runaway from his master’s service into the woods and remain there, killing hogs, etc., and should refuse to surrender, and offer resistance to persons legally empowered to pursue and capture, it should be lawful for such pursuers to shoot, kill, and destroy such slave.[14] The Alabama law, it seems to me, gave very little more authority to legal pursuers of fugitive slaves than is now given to officers when engaged in the pursuit of fugitives.

In North Carolina a proclamation of outlawry against a slave was authorized whenever he should runaway from his master and conceal himself in some obscure retreat, and to sustain life, should kill hogs, etc., and any person might lawfully kill such outlawed slave.[15] Also in Virginia two justices of the peace were authorized to outlaw runaways, whom any person might kill, without accusation of crime for so doing, but this act was repealed in 1792.[16]

This authority to outlaw slaves never existed in Alabama, and a person neverp possessed authority to kill a slave without possibility of accusation of crime, the law in Alabama [10] most resembling this being as follows: Any justice of the peace receiving information that three or more runaway slaves are lurking in swamps and other obscure places, may by warrant, reciting the names of the slaves and their owners, if known, direct a leader of the patrol of the district, and if there be none, then any other suitable person, to summon and take with him such power as may be necessary to apprehend such runaways, and, if taken to deliver them to the owner or to commit them to the jail of his proper county.[17]

Even after 1860, when it would be natural to expect more rigorous laws, the only new laws as to runaways were acts providing for increased compensation for taking up runaway slaves.[18]

  1. [9] Sec. 12. All runaway slaves may be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who shall commit such slave to jail or send him to his owner, who shall pay six dollars for the slave so taken, and costs and charges.

    Sec. 13. In cases of slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., the justice of the peace must direct the provost of patrols to take the slaves by force and commit them to jail, the provost receiving thirty dollars from the Territory, three-fourths of which was to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes.

    See also Ala. Justice, p. 425.

    Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 378.

  2. [10] Sec. 20. When any slave shall be committed to the jail of any county as a runaway, and such runaway shall not be claimed and proved by the owner thereof within six months of the first publication of the commitment of such slave in some newspaper published in this state, it shall be lawful for the sheriff of said county to sell said slave at public auction, at the court house of his proper county, upon giving at least thirty days’ previous notice of such sale, by advertisement published in some newspaper in this state at the court house of the proper county, and at least two other public places in the same; and out of the proceeds arising from the sale of any runaway slave as aforesaid, the sheriff shall be entitled to the same commissions and fees as are allowed in execution, and the balance, after paying all prison fees and maintenance of said runaway slave while in jail, shall be for the use of the proper county: Provided, that if the owner of such runaway slave shall, after such sale prove his property in any such slave, the proper county shall pay to him the amount that shall have gone into the treasury, on account of the sale of such slave, but the right to any slave, sold as aforesaid, shall be and remain vested in the purchaser under the sale made by the sheriff as aforesaid.

    Clay’s Ala. Dig., p. 542, sec. 20.

    Almost word for word in Ala. Justice, p. 432, and referred to Dig. p. 373.

  3. [11] There may arise in some minds this question: When a negro committed to jail as a runaway, is not claimed by any man as a slave, why is it not presumed that he is a free negro and discharged? Free negroes did live in Alabama, for there are laws which are specially applicable to them, and before 1834 emancipated slaves might remain in Alabama as free negroes, and therefore there might arise some question as to whether such free negro was free or slave, but the Supreme Court of Alabama, in the case of Field v. Milly Walker, Ala. Rep. vol. 17, p. 81, has held that a person of color in this state is presumed to be a slave and the burden of proof is on such person of color.
  4. [12] Acts of ’40-’41, p. 129, sec. 15.

    Every person, who shall knowingly aid any negro or any other slave to run away, or depart from his master’s service, such person, so offtending, on conviction, shall suffer imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than two, and not exceeding five years.

    See also Clay’s Dig. of 1843, p. 419, sec. 15.

  5. [13] Stroud, p. 103; Haywood’s Manual, pp. 521-522.
  6. [14] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231, Laws of Maryland, 1723, chap. 15, sec. 7.
  7. [15] Stroud, p. 38.
  8. [16] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231; Stroud, p. 103.
  9. [17] Ala. Code of 1852, sec. 1024; Clay’s Dig., p. 541, sec. 15. This law was enacted in 1805, by the Miss. Territory.
  10. [18] Acts of ’61, p. 15.

    AN ACT. To amend section 1023 of the Code in relation to runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That hereafter it shall be the duty of justices of the peace before whom runaway slaves are brought, instead of committing them to jail, to order and direct such slaves to be delivered to their owner, overseer or agent, in all cases where the justice is satisfied that the name of the true owner is made known, and where the residence of such owner, his overseer or agent, is nearer than the county jail: Provided, that the owner, his overseer or agent, shall on delivery of the slave pay the fee now allowed by law for arresting, and the compensation hereinafter provided to the taker-up, or such other person as may have the custody of the slave, and in case of the refusal of the owner, his overseer or agent, to pay such fees and compensation promptly on delivery, then it shall be the duty of the person having charge of the slave, and the justice shall so instruct him, to carry the slave back to the office of the justice, who shall forthwith commit him to the county jail.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That where runaway slaves are committed to jail, it shall be the duty of the justice in such cases to endorse on the back of his warrant to the sheriff, the cost and charges for apprehending and bringing to jail, and to certify the same to the owner, when delivery is made to him, but in no case to exceed the amount allowed by law.

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That for bringing a runaway slave to jail, the persons performing such service shall be entitled to the sum of ten cents a mile in coming to and returning from the jail, estimating the distance by the nearest route, and ferriages, and to the same compensation when the slave is carried to his master, or overseer, and the justice for his service shall be allowed the sum of seventy-five cents.

    Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That any justice who allows and endorses on the warrant or certificate to the owner, larger or other fees and compensation, than is now allowed by law, and by the provisions of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than double the aggregate amount endorsed, or certified, to be recovered before any magistrate for the use of the owner. App’d. Dec. 7, 1861.

    Also in the Acts of ’63, p. 63, appears this act.

    AN ACT, To increase the fees now allowed by law for apprehending and committing to jail runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That for apprehending and committing a runaway slave to jail, or for delivering him to his owner, the sum of ten dollars shall be allowed instead of six dollars as now provided by law; and for taking a runaway slave to jail the person performing such service shall be entitled to fifteen cents per mile, in giong to and returning from the jail, and to a like compensation when the slave is delivered to his master or overseer, instead of ten cents per mile as now provided, and the justice of the peace shall be allowed for his services one dollar and a half in lieu of seventy-five cents now allowed. App’d Dec. 7, 1863.

    Also in ’64 this act was passed. Acts of ’64, p. 78.

    AN ACT, To increase the compensation for taking up a runaway slave.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That from and after the passage of this act the compensation for taking up a runaway slave shall be twenty-five dollars, instead of the amount now allowed by law. Provided, that this act shall terminate with the existing war. App’d Dec. 10, 1864.

Miss Meriwether Harvey, Class of 1907

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we had added a 1907 short study on “Slavery in Auburn, Alabama” to the Fair Use Repository. The booklet was published as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series. Meriwether Harvey is listed as the author of the booklet; it is evident from the text that Harvey based the study on some fairly extensive first-hand interviews with family or acquaintances in some of the prominent white families that had formerly owned slaves in the area of Auburn, and also at least some interviews with local African-Americans who had been born under slavery. If you wanted to find information about the author, though, what was available was fairly limited. Harvey was not a member of the Alabama Polytechnic faculty in 1907, and the booklet gives no further detail about its author.

John David Smith, the author of An Old Creed for the New South (2008), describes the the booklet and its author on pp. 173-4, 179:

Fortunately, a talented amateur historian and a number of graduate students went beyond such romanticized views of slavery on the state and local level. […] Meriwether Harvey and James K. Turner conducted even more minute grass roots research on slavery in Auburn, Alabama and Edgecombe County, North Carolina, respectively. […] The essays by Meriwether Harvey and James K. Turner remain important because they represent the type of micro research on slavery that still cries out to be written. Harvey, a student at Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn, made the most detailed examination of the period of slavery in any one locale. He focused on slavery in Auburn, in 1860 a small cotton-producing community of one thousand whites and seven hundred blacks….

Smith helpfully, and correctly, identifies Meriwether Harvey as a student at Alabama Polytechnic (now known as Auburn University) — but misidentifies Harvey as “he.” After a bit of research with old copies of the Glomerata at the Auburn University Library Special Collections section, I can now introduce you to Miss Meriwether Harvey, a 19 year old Senior co-ed student at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, who graduated with honors as part of the Class of 1907. Alabama Polytechnic (formerly the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama) had in fact admitted a small number of female students since 1892, — including Miss Meriwether Harvey.

Miss Meriweather [sic] Harvey

Blockton, Ala.

“Merie.” General.

A very congenial piece of curiosity.

Despises frivolity. “Isn’t the Captain of Company K handsome!” Believes in maintaining her rights and doing the right. A natural-born mythologist. Always eager to talk about the Conway Cabal (?). Never sends post cards to the professors. Hardest boner of Co-eds. Pretends that she is going to “IV” but makes I’s. “I’m shocked to think that Napoleon wrote L-O-V-E letters.”

Honorary member of Websterian Literary Society; Distinction ’05.

This is from p. 41 in the Senior Class section of the Glomerata, API’s official yearbook, Vol. X for the school year ending in 1907.

Ms. Harvey was one of only eight women enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic in 1907. She graduated with honor as part of the Class of 1907; here is her listing in the 1907-1908 Alabama Polytechnic Institute catalogue:

Page 24. [...] GRADUATES WITH HONOR: John Bayard Clarke, Marion; John Cameron Dow, Barbour; Edwin Alexander Harriss, Georgia; Mary Meriwether Harvey, Bibb; [...]
Alabama Polytechnic Institute Catalogue, 1908, p. 24

Many thanks to the Auburn University Archives and Special Collections Department for their help in locating and identifying the author of this remarkable local study. More information about Meriwether Harvey is now available through Meriwether Harvey at ”Notes from the Margins”.