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This article examines debates over fugitives from slavery during Virginia’s secession movement. By considering these debates in the context of Virginia’s history of freedom seekers, the constitutional politics of fugitive slave rendition, and white fears of politically informed slave resistance, this article clarifies how proslavery Virginians understood the threat posed by interstate slave flight in 1861. In the wake of Abraham Lincoln's election, proslavery Virginians on both sides of the secession conflict agreed that runaways posed a grave danger to the future of slavery in the state. Early in the convention, southeastern planters and northwestern unionists forged an alliance based on their fear of losing federal protection against slave flight. After slaveholders interpreted President Lincoln as hostile to enforcing the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, however, secessionists used the issue to frame the Northern public as aggressive and foreign.


This article was originally published in The Journal of the Civil War Era, available at



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