From the Wisconsin territorial capitol, Abram D. Smith captivated his audience with tales of an electrified future of global republicanism.
Abram D. Smith
Virtually no one is aware that Abram D. Smith ever existed. His life has almost gone unnoticed by historians, yet Abram D. Smith was not only floated by some for Vice President on the Republican ticket in 1860, but he briefly served as President of the Republic of Canada more than two decades earlier. Smith was born in 1811, in one of the many upstate New York small towns dotting the Adirondacks, likely an antinomian Congregationalist. As a young man and law student, Smith encountered the radical classical liberal philosophy of the New York “Loco-Focos,” imbibed deeply in their brand of romantic, revolutionary republicanism, and moved west with his family. The Smiths settled in Ohio and Abram threw himself into Democratic politics. As a City Councilman in Cleveland, he delivered speeches of the “ultra Locofoco kind,” in the words of a local paper. In his spare time, he conspired with fellow “Brother Hunters,” and “Patriots,” as they called themselves, to violently overthrow British rule in Canada (but we will have to wait to explore this particular exciting chapter in Smith’s life). When the attempt at Canadian rebellion promptly dissolved, Smith returned to a relatively obscure life of quiet reformism. He joined the County Anti-Slavery Society and became a trustee for the Cleveland Female Seminary, “a private school for young ladies.”
The Smiths moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1842, where Abram, styled “Governor of the People,” gave expansionist speeches laced with radical liberal visions of American Manifest Destiny. He practiced law and delivered inspiring speeches, winning him election to the state Supreme Court. In 1852, a Missouri slave named Joshua Glover escaped his master and resettled in Racine, Wisconsin. When federal marshals tracked, captured, and beat Glover on 10 March, 1854, locals alerted famous abolitionist and publisher of the Milwaukee Daily Free Democrat, Sherman Booth. Booth led a crowd of 5,000 in an assault on the city jail on 13 March, 1854. The crowd broke into the jail, freed Glover, and made public demonstrations of their victory. Officials soon charged Booth with aiding and abetting a fugitive slave.
Booth’s attorney, Byron Paine, appealed to the court to release his client, claiming that the Fugitive Slave Act violated the rights of Wisconsin by denying citizens due process of law. Smith’s decision of 7 June, 1854 nullified the Fugitive Slave Act in the state of Wisconsin, holding that it was an unconstitutional breach of authority, incommensurate with the national government’s strictly delegated powers.
Abram D. Smith is a forgotten figure in American history. But in September 1838, a circle of revolutionaries elected him to be President of Canada.
How did Justice Abram Smith of Wisconsin challenge the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?
“For at least two full generations, the Loco-Focos spread a radical anti-corporate republican ideology and made significant…marks on American…history.”
The first in a series on early battles between the states and the federal government, Mosvick reviews one of the Taney court’s overlooked decisions.