Syracuse in Onondaga County, New York — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
The Freedom Trail
— The Underground Railroad —
Daniel Webster, about refusing to carry out the Fugitive Slave Law, 1851.
On September 18, 1850, President Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring federal marshals to capture people accused of escaping from slavery, and mandating that accused persons could not testify on their own behalf. Those who helped freedom seekers could be fined the enormous sum of $1000 for each-person they helped, plus spend up to six months in jail. Judges who supported slave catchers received ten dollars. If they ruled for the accused, they received only five dollars.
The Syracuse Standard called this law "arbitrary, tyrannical, unnecessary," and "obnoxious," and the law aroused immediate opposition in Syracuse. Within two days, African Americans organized a protest meeting. Chaired by James Baker (a 40-year-old whitewasher, member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and freedom seeker from Georgia), the meeting resolved "that we hold this truth to be self evident, that a man's right to himself is God given," and "that hereafter we will wear daggers
The federal government struck back. In May 1851, from a balcony on the east side of the Courier Building (then known as Frazee Hall), U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster challenged the people of Syracuse. If they refused to carry out the Fugitive Slave Law, he said, "they are traitors, and are guilty of treason… It is treason, treason, TREASON, and nothing else." The federal government, he said, would enforce the Fugitive Slave Law in Syracuse "in the midst of the next anti-slavery convention, if the occasion shall arise." Rev. Samuel J. May, standing in the crowd, said that "indignation flashed from many eyes in that assembly, and one might almost hear the gritting of teeth in defiance of the threat."
On October 1, 1851, the U.S. government carried out Webster's promise. While the antislavery Liberty Party convention met at the First Congregational Church just west of the Courier Building, Federal marshal William Allen arrested William "Jerry" Henry, a cooper who had escaped from slavery in Missouri. A biracial group of hundreds of Syracuse citizens, both men and women, helped William "Jerry" Henry successfully escape to Kingston, Ontario, and the
Erected by Preservation Association of Central New York, City of Syracuse, and Onondaga Historical Association. (Marker Number 5.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Abolition & Underground RR • African Americans • Civil Rights • Law Enforcement. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #13 Millard Fillmore series list.
Location. 43° 2.98′ N, 76° 8.975′ W. Marker is in Syracuse, New York, in Onondaga County. Marker is on East Washington Street west of Montgomery Street, on the right when traveling west. Marker is located along the sidewalk near the southeast corner of the subject building. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 241 East Genesee Street, Syracuse NY 13202, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Daniel Webster's "Syracuse Speech" (a few steps from this marker); James K. McGuire (within shouting distance of this marker); Syracuse Grade Crossing Elimination (within shouting distance of this marker); Gateway to the World (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Gardening Along the Erie Canal (about 400 Why a Weighlock? (about 400 feet away); Pitts Park (about 400 feet away); Locks (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Syracuse.
Regarding Courier Building. National Register of Historic Places #14000006.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Syracuse Freedom Trail & Underground Railroad
Also see . . . The Courier Building. The Courier Building was built in 1844, and was known as the Frazee Block. It was renamed Courier Building in October of 1856. Despite major alterations to the building, the historically important balcony remains intact on the Montgomery Street side. Daniel Webster gave his famous “Syracuse Speech” from this balcony on May 26, 1851. Webster warned local abolitionists that aiding and abetting fugitive slaves would be considered treasonous. (Submitted on September 5, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on September 5, 2019. It was originally submitted on September 3, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 130 times since then and 38 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on September 3, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 2, 3, 4. submitted on September 5, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 5. submitted on September 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 6, 7. submitted on September 5, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.