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Response to Review of Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery

In all my years in this business, I have never responded to a reviewer’s take on the merits of any of my books for the simple reason responses always come across as carping. This breaks with that tradition because of the nature of the media which encourages responses.
Hancock has done me the favor of providing a detailed and engaging review. Like all such reviews, it contains a mix of kicks and kisses. I must admit the kicks are only glancing while the kisses are well placed.
 
Hancock's major concern comes deep into the review. Given my reliance on newspapers, he suggests I should have provided a statement about the utility and limits of that source. Admittedly, I should have said something, at least in an introductory footnote, on the use of mid-19th-century newspapers. He has a point, but I took it for granted, as I said leaning on C. L. R. James, that if one wants to know what people who left us few records thought about freedom one had to look at what they did. And in the midst of the political crisis caused by the actions of those who fled slavery, a crisis made worse by a law that was meant to address the problem, one had to consult, inevitably, those local sources that recorded events. Wherever they existed, I was very careful to consult newspapers of different political persuasions. Fugitive slave cases in out-of-the-way communities were extensively covered by the local newspaper whose stenographers were clearly proud of their skills. They also reprinted accounts of cases in other places drawn from exchanges. Hancock is critical of one instance where I used the views of one newspaper, the Lawrenceburg, Indiana (not Ohio) Independent Press, to comment on events taking place in Vermont. My point was simply to show the widespread interest in the politics of the fugitive slave crisis. 
 
Again, my thanks to Hancock for his thoughtful comments.