Thurlow Weed was a political boss in the Whig party. He became a Republican and supported fellow New Yorker William Seward for the party’s presidential nomination in 1860. It is believed that one of the reasons that Seward lost the nomination is because the party considered him too extreme to win the states of the lower North. The Wikipedia article on Weed says that Weed’s reputation as a strong arm political boss may have contributed to Seward’s failure to win the nomination.
My understanding is that one of the major reasons for secession crisis following Lincoln’s election was the South’s strong resentment of northern “Personal Liberty Laws” – state statutes that essentially made the federal Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable in the northern state. Southerners considered these state laws nothing other than nullification. South Carolina failed in its effort to nullify federal law in 1832-1833. In the piece reprinted here Weed promotes a way to possibly satisfy both the South and the North – pay slave owners for the fugitive slaves – at least those rescued from the slave hunters.
From The New-York Times December 3, 1860:
THURLOW WEED ON THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW.
From The Albany Evening Journal
The present Fugitive Slave Law is a detestable one. Its vindictive features were designed to insult and degrade us. But a proper and efficient Fugitive Slave Law is a requirement of the Constitution; and we are as much bound to observe and obey such a law, as South Carolina is to observe and obey any other provision of the Constitution.
God knows that we should rejoice to see every human being — all who are created in the image of their Maker — entitled, where their lives or their liberty are concerned, to a trial by jury. But under our present form of Government, with the Constitution as our law and guide, this is impracticable. Our fathers found Slavery so deeply seated, and so intricately connected with their business, that they could not form a Union without recognizing and tolerating it. As Christians and philanthropists, they looked forward to its ultimate extinction; but only by just measures peaceful influences. Inheriting their principles and imbued with their sympathies, we have, in our humble way, labored to the same end. But always in subordination to the Constitution and laws.
The duty which the Constitution imposes in relation to fugitive slaves, is a hard one, but while we disregard it, we have no right to complain of slave States for disregarding it in other respects. We have never refused to contribute our share towards purchasing the freedom of slaves applying for aid. Nor have we ever refused charity to people or color, in distress, without inquiring whether they were fugitives or free. But we loathe and detest the whole race of miscreants who have done more harm than their necks are worth, in beguiling domestic slaves from families traveling and sojourning in free States.
In view of what is coming, and in the hope of averting it, we would cheerfully consent to a law which should provide for the payment of every fugitive rescued from an officer by violence.
But we are utterly opposed to the Journal’s Idea of “letting the Cotton States have what they want — a slaveholding and slave-importing Confederacy.” It is better and wiser, in our judgment, to do our whole duty under the Constitution, and hold others to their obligations.
Earlier in the fall of 1860 The New-York Times seemed to entertain a similar idea. If Weed only wants the law to require payment for slaves rescued from the slave hunters, I’m not sure that would satisfy the South. A lot of fugitives weren’t rescued.