Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 118 / Number 2
Secession and Slavery as a Positive Good: The Impact of the Anthony Burns Drama in Boston on Virginia
- Gordon S. Barker, pp. 136–73
This article focuses on the impact of the Anthony Burns crisis in Boston in 1854 on slaveholding Virginians and southern whites in neighboring states. Reviewing reports and editorials in newspapers, the correspondence of southerners, speeches of prominent politicians, and the writings of leading proslavery thinkers, the article suggests that the drama surrounding the trial and return of the last fugitive slave sent back to the South from Boston encouraged many Virginians to reassess the Union and reflect on social differences between the North and South. In so doing, many Virginians and their white neighbors drew on the views of a new generation of proslavery thinkers and came to view their society with slavery at its center as distinctly good. The Burns drama served as a critical test of the ideology of slavery as a positive good. The article contends that during the crisis and in the weeks that followed many white Virginians radically changed their commitment to the Union and demanded boycotts of northern manufactures and other measures aimed at distancing themselves from the North. They began to embrace notions of secession. For many, the Burns drama was a call to action.