Trial of Theodore Parker

Anthony BURNS   |   Theodore PARKER

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"ONE OF THE MOST DRAMATIC AND FAMOUS INCIDENTS IN THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT": FIRST EDITION OF THE TRIAL OF THEODORE PARKER, 1855

(BURNS, Anthony) PARKER, Theodore. The Trial of Theodore Parker, for the 'Misdemeanor' of a Speech in Faneuil Hall against Kidnapping, before the Circuit Court of the United States, at Boston, April 3, 1855. With the Defence. Boston: Published for the Author, 1855. Octavo, original brown cloth. $2200.

First edition of the fiery abolitionist's attack on the trial and rendition of Anthony Burns, and the federal government’s attempt to prosecute Parker and other key abolitionists—"one of the most remarkable and flamboyant works of the 19th century… on the right of free speech, the wrong of slavery, and the nature of judicial tyranny," a handsome copy in original cloth.

"The trial and rendition of Anthony Burns was one of the most dramatic and famous incidents in the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of Sept. 18, 1850." In March 1854 Burns, having escaped from slavery, reached Boston but was soon arrested after his slave owner tracked him to the city. That May, after a mass meeting was held in Faneuil Hall to protest his arrest, a crowd made an abortive attempt to rescue him from the jail. When a federal commissioner decided in favor of the slave owner, preparations were made to move Burns from the courthouse to the wharf for his return to slavery. That decision sparked "one of the greatest spectacles of the late antebellum period" when the U.S. government, determined to prove the Fugitive Slave Act would be enforced, spent nearly $100,000 in troops, artillery, battalions and regiments of light infantry as Boston streets swelled with thousands of protesters (Finkelman, Slavery in the Courtroom, 107, 112).

Subsequently, on June 7, "U.S. Supreme Court Curtis charged a federal grand jury in Boston to seek incitements against those responsible for the jail riot that failed to liberate Burns." When none were issued, a second grand jury was convened to consider new "indictments against those who had spoken during the Faneuil Hall meeting" of that May. Before that grand jury met, Rev. Theodore Parker spoke out against the law in a sermon, and was indicted along with Thomas W. Higginson, Wendell Phillips and others. "On November 29 Parker was arraigned on various charges that he 'with force of arms, did knowingly and willfully obstruct, resist and oppose' the rendition of Anthony Burns." Against the likelihood a trial "would only have provided a forum for antislavery ideas," the initial indictment was dropped and the prosecution entered a nolle proseui in the remaining cases (Finkelman, 116).

With that, Parker decided to publish this "lengthy and scathing" work, where he declares "a great political revolution" has taken place. Here, in "'one of the most remarkable and flamboyant American books of the 19th century,' Parker presented a 'thorough treatise on the right of free speech, the wrong of slavery, and the nature of judicial tyranny.' Published in November 1855, Trial of Theodore Parker… argued that 'barbarous laws must not be applied in a civilized age; nor unjust laws enforced by righteous men'" (Lubet, Fugitive Justice, 220-221). In Parker's bold conclusion, he proclaims: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." Rear advertisement leaf. Issued in brown cloth (this copy) and green cloth, no priority established. Finkelman, Slavery, 115-117. Sabin 58767. Blockson 10160. Title page with small owner signatures. Owner bookplate.

Text very fresh, scant edge-wear, trace of soiling to original cloth. A very scarce about-fine copy of a distinctive anti-slavery work with particular relevance to the right of free speech.

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