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New York’s Last Personal Liberty Law: Anti-Fugitive Slave Clause, With Connection to Solomon Northup
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Whenever the governor of this state shall receive information satisfactory to him, that any free citizen or inhabitant of this state, has been kidnapped and transported away out of this state…for the purpose of being there held in slavery;…it shall be the duty of the said governor to take such measures as he shall deem necessary to procure such person to be restored to his liberty and returned to this state.

[SLAVERY AND ABOLITION—NEW YORK STATE]. New York Assembly. “An Act More effectually to protect the free citizens of this state from being kidnapped or reduced to slavery,” Victory Birdseye, May 1, 1840. 2 pp., 6⅞ x 12⅜ in.

Inventory #23389.01       Price: $3,250

Historical Background
This bill led to the passage of New York’s last Personal Liberty Law on May 14, 1840, authorizing the governor to appoint agents to recover persons kidnapped and sold as slaves.

The most famous invocation of this law was for Solomon Northup (ca. 1807-1863), who in 1841waskidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana. In 1852, he finally had an opportunity to write to friends in New York, who had no idea he was still alive. In 1853, attorney Henry B. Northup (son of the former master of Solomon’s father’s), who had gone to Louisiana under authority of this law with the approval of New York’s Governor, succeeded. Solomon Northup, upon being freed and returning home, published his story as Twelve Years a Slave, with a copy of this law in an appendix. The law was employed several other times in the late 1850s to rescue New York citizens from slavery.

Victory Birdseye (1782-1853) was born in Connecticut, graduated from Williams College in 1804, and was admitted to the bar in New York in 1807. He established a practice in Pompey Hill, New York, where he was postmaster from 1817 to 1838 and district attorney of Onondaga County from 1818 to 1833. He was a New York Democratic-Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1815 to 1817. He served as a member of the New York Assembly in 1823, the New York Senate in 1827, and the Assembly again in 1838 and 1840, where he represented Onandoga County as a Whig. He returned to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1841 to 1843.

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