While many of us might associate Early State Records as those occurring before and right after the Revolutionary War, later documents can often give perspective on the changing mores of the early United States.
In 1857, Connecticut’s Joint Standing Committee on Federal Relations, in the General Assembly, issued a report, along with resolutions and a bill reacting to the recent decision by the United States, Dred Scott v. Sandford. (LLMC #20227). This landmark case added fuel to the abolitionists’ ire when the Supreme Court declared that the Congressional ban of on slavery in the federal territories, established in the Missouri Compromise, was unconstitutional. Scott, a slave brought by his owner into free territory, sued for his and his family’s freedom. In a 7-2 decision, the Court declared that he had no standing as a slave, and therefore could not challenge his owner. After reviewing the situation, the Committee issued a majority report which reaffirmed the citizenship of freed slaves in Connecticut and, in a resolution, requested that federal legislators from Connecticut prevent any further slave-holding states to be admitted into the Union. While a minority report was also submitted (LLMC #20118), focusing on state’s rights, Connecticut retained its position as a strong abolitionist state.
However, this support for the freed slave did not necessarily result in equality – or even welcome for these former slaves. In 1852 and 1853, a few short years prior to this strong pronouncement, the Joint Committee from the Connecticut General Assembly (LLMC #20198 and 20209), provided financial and moral support for the Connecticut State Colonization Society, an organization whose philanthropic efforts focused on “colonizing” former slaves, with their consent, back to “the land of their fathers,” generally to Liberia (LLMC # 20143). Here they would be able to dwell “in peace and harmony, upon their own ‘free soil,’ and under a government administered exclusively by themselves” (LLMC #20198). Or, as the 1852 Joint Committee concluded, “[t]his scheme is teaching the world that civil liberty … is not necessarily confined to the Anglo-Saxon puritans -- that it is a boon to be possessed and enjoyed even by the children of Ham.”
While this may sound similar to America’s theme to “give me your tired, your poor …yearning to breathe free,” the reason for this new society was based on a stark reality: “[i]t has been decided that here they can never rise to a social or political equality. “ In the face of this “prejudice, or patriotism, or philosophy,” the General Assembly chose to pay $50 a head to emigrating African Americans (LLMC #20209).
Generally, creating a ghetto for an unwanted minority is viewed with disdain by those who espouse freedom. These reports demonstrated that Connecticut and other northern states did not even want their ghetto of freed slaves on the same continent - and were willing to pay for that “privilege.”
Early State Records is one of LLMC’s most substantial initiatives, thanks to the patronage of several libraries which are listed *here*.. In Phase One, LLMC is digitizing 1028 reels from the Library of Congress’ microfilm collection, containing the records, treatises, newspaper accounts and other legal or related documents from pre-colonial through early statehood of the 15 Atlantic Coast states as well as Native American tribes. At the time of this article, LLMC is completing the 55 Connecticut reels. Applying advanced digitization post-processing and value-added metadata to these primary and secondary sources which were held in numerous state, federal and foreign libraries, historical societies, archives and legislatures, LLMC’s LLMC Digital online service will make many rare and little seen documents available to researchers and society as a whole.
Written by Joyce Savio Herleth, Saint Louis University School of Law