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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Break Down the Doors!

This week marked the anniversary of the most famous civil rights event in Wisconsin history.

On March 10, 1854, a Missouri slave owner appeared in Racine and demanded that Joshua Glover be turned over to him under the U.S. Fugitive Slave Law. The authorities arrested Glover, but anti-slavery feeling ran so high in Racine that they didn't dare to hand him back to the slave owner. Instead, they secretly moved him to Milwaukee where there was a stronger jail.

When Milwaukee's large abolitionist community heard about it -- partly from newspaper editor Sherman Booth, who rode through the city's streets calling on sympathizers to storm the jail -- a large mob quickly outnumbered the police. A bricklayer in their midst grabbed a beam from a nearby construction site, the crowd smashed down the courthouse door, and Glover was sped away through the Underground Railroad to safety in Canada.

Booth was soon arrested for aiding and abetting a fugitive, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, claiming that the U.S. Fugitive Slave Law was unconstitutional and did not apply in Wisconsin. The U.S. Supreme Court naturally thought otherwise, and the legal wrangling over Booth's fate captured the nation's imagination for six more years, until he was pardoned at the start of the Civil War. You can read more first-hand accounts of the Glover incident at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

:: Posted in Curiosities on March 11, 2010
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