March 7, 1842 – Maryland Bans Abolitionist Materials

In spite of the contention by slaveowners that slaves were well-treated, slaves inexplicably [sic] were periodically motivated to rebel and/or attempt to escape their putatively happy lives.

Thus, on this day in history, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law prohibiting free “Negroes” and “mulattoes” (presumably sympathetic to slaves) from possessing any fliers, pamphlets, newspapers, pictorial representations, “or other papers of an inflammatory character,” i.e., abolitionist materials. The law also forbid the receipt of these items through any post office within the state of Maryland. Violation of the law would be a felony, and those declared guilty would face up to twenty years in prison.

Example of inflammatory abolitionist image

Example of inflammatory abolitionist image

To enforce the law, Maryland residents were asked to alert authorities in their respective communities about African Americans in possession of the banned abolitionist materials. Citizens of Maryland who failed to report these violations faced a fine of no less than $500 or no less than sixty days imprisonment in a county jail. County courts and the city of Baltimore’s courts were tasked with informing grand juries of the law and charging them with enforcing it when court was in session.

You can view the law here.


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