I’m currently reading a John Brown biography, and am deep in the heart of the Bleeding Kansas chapters. It’s interesting to note that, for all the violence and emotion of the pro- and anti-slavery factions, there were many moderate Kansas who tried desperately to keep these radicals in check.
This story, of an escaped slave torn from her life as a free woman, illustrates the delicacy with which the moderates of Ohio treated the situation of enforcing the hated Fugitive Slave Act. They did their best to repress the irrepressible conflict that was erupting all around them.
The news of Bagby’s arrest raced across the country. It was as if the South had stabbed the North in the heart; Bagby was snatched from a bastion of freedom by the evil slave oligarchy. Northerners now knew that slaveowners would indeed reach into any town in any state and grab any African-American they chose. No one was safe from slavery’s odious grasp.
In the days before Bagby’s trial, the street outside her jail nearly erupted into violence several times as free blacks gathered. Others pleaded for calm. The United States in early 1861 was in a tenuous position, with some states having seceded and others mulling the possibility. Many hoped that there was still a way to reunite the country. But a violent rescue of Bagby would further inflame the South and make disunion inevitable.