Chapter 16: the Underground railroad
The prescribed penalties for assisting in the escape of fugitive slaves were severe.
By the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act
, as it was called, any one convicted of that offense, besides a liability for one thousand dollars damages recoverable in a civil action, was subject to a five-hundred-dollars fine and imprisonment in a penitentiary for one year.
As the writer has not “done time” for participation in certain transactions dating back to his earlier days, in which the legal rights of slave-owners were indifferently respected, he thinks it advisable to be somewhat reserved in his recital of personal experiences when taking the public into his confidence.
The Fugitive Slave Law-and for that fact we should give “most hearty thanks” --is about as dead as any statute can be, but as in the case of a snake that has been killed, it may be the wiser course not to trifle with its fangs.
Therefore, instead of telling my own story in the first person singular, I offer as a substitute the confession of one John Smith
, whose existence no one will presume to dispute.
Here is his statement: