London: William Tweedie, 1863. Octavo, measuring 7.5 x 5 inches: xvi, 182, . Original full blue blindstamped textured cloth, spine lettered and decorated in gilt, yellow coated endpapers. Frontispiece portrait of Anderson. Binding soiled and worn along edges and spine, corners bumped, occasional spotting to text.
Very scarce first edition of this account of the controversial trial of the fugitive slave John Anderson, issued to raise funds for his education. Anderson’s 1860 trial sparked an international debate over criminal extradition cases involving American slaves, as well as the right of English courts to intercede in Canadian cases. John Anderson, a Missouri-born slave, was sold away from his wife and newborn child in 1853, and ordered to “abandon and forget them, and take a new wife, or mistress, from amongst the slaves of his present owner.” Anderson escaped from his new owner, hoping to earn enough working in Canada to buy the freedom of his family. During his flight, Anderson encountered Seneca Diggs, a white slave owner who identified Anderson as a fugitive and pursued him with an axe. In the ensuing struggle, Anderson stabbed and killed Diggs. Pursued by slave catchers, Anderson finally arrived in Canada, where he lived and worked for five years until an informer advised local authorities that Anderson had killed a man in the United States. This action led to his arrest, and drew the attention of a professional slave catcher, who filed to extradite Anderson. The case represented an ethical dilemma for the Canadian court: many felt that “the rendition of Anderson, would be a virtual recognition, on British soil, of the slave laws of the United States.” The question had far reaching consequences, as every fugitive slave in Canada would be in jeopardy if the Canadian courts acknowledged American slave laws. In a split decision, the court ruled to extradite Anderson, but a number of judges found his use of force justifiable: one noted that Anderson “was committing no crime in endeavoring to escape and to better his own condition; and the fact of his being a slave cannot . . . make that a crime which would not be so if he were a white man.” During Anderson’s appeal process, abolitionist forces in the English courts issued a writ of habeas corpus in an attempt to move the trial to London, where a more favorable judgment was expected. This move met with opposition in the Canadian courts, as it appeared to set a precedent for regular interference by England in local proceedings. In the end, the case against Anderson was dismissed on a technicality, a mistake in the wording of the original warrant, and the controversy ended without international escalation. Anderson moved to England in 1861 to “enjoy his liberty without the fear of persecution.” There a “John Anderson Committee” was formed by editor Harper Twelvetrees and other abolitionists to find the means to pay for the illiterate Anderson’s education: this narrative was produced by the committee to raise those funds. It is the only source for most of the particulars of Anderson’s life. OCLC lists two institutional holdings, neither in the United States. A very good copy of a scarce and important fugitive slave narrative, casting light on the international legal debate occasioned by the Fugitive Slave Act.