Effects of the

Anthony Burns Affair











History 312: Civil War and Reconstruction Student Web Sites



Anthony Burns became the last fugitive slave returned from Boston or anywhere in the New England states (McPherson 84). Why? What impact did the Anthony Burns Affair have on the attitudes of the North and the South?

The topics and ideas focused upon during the trial had strained national unity for years. "It also tested the will and capacity of government at all levels to enforce law and keep peace. Yet the formal conclusion of that drama, the rendition of the fugitive, did little to reinforce national unity, reassure the South, or provide for easier law enforcement in the future. In Massachusetts and throughout the North, the case rather catalyzed an increased will to defy the Fugitive Slave Law" (Pease 53).

In response to Anthony Burns’ rendition, new local private organizations came into being with the purpose of opposing law enforcement. Publicly, alderman of Boston voted to remove federal courts from the courthouse. Also in 1855 new personal liberty laws were passed by the state. Several of the provisions included the following: the firing of state officials who issued certificates with the purpose of returning a fugitive, federal officials who have the authority to issue these certificates were barred from holding a state office, attorneys who wished to represent the claimant of a fugitive had his practice shut down, and public defenders were appointed to fugitives. Some parts of those provisions were repealed in 1858. However, no fugitives were legally returned to slavery after this date (Pease 59).

In addition to these effects, the Anthony Burns Affair was one more thing, of many throughout the years, that resulted in increased sectional feelings throughout the North and the South. This was perhaps the biggest impact of the Anthony Burns Affair. In the North, it proved only to intensify antislavery sentiment and also resentment of fugitive law enforcement (Pease 51). Many Northerners accepted slavery in the South. They did not all agree with it or like it but they would accept it there. When issues of slavery began moving into the western territories or the North, it hit too close to home. It was more than they were willing to accept. For example, when they were asked to assist in returning a fugitive to slavery, that was more than they wanted to be involved, and so resulted in intensifying this anti-slavery sentiment in the North. The South clearly saw this resentment and as a result questioned the effectiveness of federal enforcement of the fugitive law (Pease 52). The Fugitive Slave Law was one of the South’s ways to protect the institution of slavery with the assistance of the federal government. Sensing the resentment feelings of the North causes the South to question how effective the federal government will be in helping to enforce this law. The Anthony Burns Affair, therefore, results in increased feeling of sectionalism on both sides.

This page was created by Karen Livingood


This page was last updated on 02/02/00