Freedom Seekers: The Transgressive Constitutionalism of Fugitives From Slavery

36 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2022

Date Written: June 6, 2022

Abstract

In the years leading up to the Civil War, fugitives from slavery ("freedom seekers") put their lives on the line to improve their own status and that of their families in their quest for freedom. Freedom seekers were constitutional actors who made constitutional claims with their actions when they transgressed borders from slave states to free spaces, and across Civil War battle lines to volunteer for the Union army. By transgressing these borders, fugitives from slavery triggered constitutional controversy over issues of interstate comity, federalism, citizenship rights, and fundamental human rights, and made rights claims for themselves with their actions. Their actions destabilized the structure of our country, leading to the Civil War. After the war, members of the Reconstruction Congress cited the sacrifices of freedom seekers as they debated measures to protect the rights that they claimed.

Freedom seekers engaged in civil disobedience, resisting law that they believed to be unjust and inhumane. In the North, free Black people and their white allies supported freedom seekers by engaging in civil disobedience of their own. The transgressive actions of freedom seekers sparked constitutional controversy during the antebellum era over issues of interstate comity, federalism, citizenship rights, and fundamental human rights, Their actions were central to the antislavery struggle, and their sacrifices send a profound message which inspired other activists and strengthened their cause. Eventually, the Reconstruction Congress enshrined their claims into constitutional law. Until now, fugitives form slavery have largely been absent from virtually all of the legal scholarship about the antebellum and Reconstruction eras. This article seeks to remedy that oversight.

Keywords: slavery, fugtives from slavery, federalism, interstate comity, constitutional interpretation, fundamental rights, Reconstruction

JEL Classification: K10, K39

Suggested Citation

Zietlow, Rebecca E., Freedom Seekers: The Transgressive Constitutionalism of Fugitives From Slavery (June 6, 2022). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 4, 2022 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4129417

Rebecca E. Zietlow (Contact Author)

University of Toledo College of Law ( email )

2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, OH 43606
United States
(419) 530-2872 (Phone)
(419) 530-7911 (Fax)

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