John Hossack: Abolitionist, Underground Railway Railroad Conductor and Station Master, Canal Builder, Merchant, Fugitive Slave Law Violator, Spark for the Civil War.


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John Hossack of Ottawa, Illinois.  Abolitionist, Underground Railway Conductor, Canal Builder.  Grain and Lumber Merchant.  Crusader for Human Rights and Liberty.  Man of God.  He feared God and loved his Fellow Man.



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bulletWhat follows is a transcription of the publication.






John Hossack was born of Scotch parentage, at Elgin, among the grand old hills of Scotland, Dec. 6. 1806. He spent his early boyhood days among the sturdy people of his native land, obtaining a very limited education. At the early age of twelve years he crossed the Atlantic ocean and entered the confectionery store of his uncle in Quebec, Canada, where he remained until near his majority, when he started business on his own account. He was married in 1833 to Miss Martha Lens. Leaving the confectionery business, which he found unsuited to the development of his ambitions, he engaged in the public works of the Dominion, and for several years was a contractor on the "Long Soo" canal on the St. Lawrence river.

In 1838 he crossed the lakes to Chicago, attracted thither by the proposed building of the Illinois and Michigan canal. Securing contracts upon the canal he continued in that work until the canal funds became exhausted and all work stopped, when, out of necessity, having nearly all his capital tied up in the canal contracts, he opened up a prairie farm in Cook county, near a fine grove, afterwards known as Hossack's grove. He was fearless and outspoken in his love of liberty and sympathy for the oppressed, and the poor fugitive learned that Hossack's grove was an asylum for the down-trodden slave, who was cared for and assisted on the road to freedom.

In 1849 Hossack came to Ottawa and engaged in the lumber trade, shortly afterwards adding the business of buying and shipping grain to Chicago, in a few years becoming one of the heaviest dealers in grain and lumber in the West. The old ferry which was established during the Blackhawk war becoming inadequate to accommodate the increasing trade from the south, he was largely instrumental in securing the building of a substantial bridge across the Illinois river. Being attracted by the beautiful view from the south bluff, in 1854 he erected thereon a stately residence. He was prominent in every enterprise for the good of the public. the period of his life, however, to which, during the remainder of his days, he referred with the greatest pride was that which marked his connection with the "underground railway." As many as thirteen fugitives from bondage were quartered in the Hossack mansion at one time. It was quite a common occurrence for one to five poor slaves to find a shelter there, notwithstanding the heavy penalty imposed for such violation of the fugitive slave law, which he on all occasions denounced as infamous and contrary to the laws of God. During this period he became the close friend and associate of William Lloyd Garrison, Owen Lovejoy, Gerritt Smith, John Wentworth, and other men of prominence. More than two hundred Negroes are said to have made their way from Missouri and Kentucky to Canada from station to station of the "underground."

On September 4, 1859, Jim Grey, one of three slaves who had escaped from Richard Phillips, a planter living near Madrid, Mo., was captured in Union county and imprisoned under the state law. As this law had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court a man named Root came to Ottawa and sued out a writ of habeas corpus before Judge J. D. Caton of the Supreme Court. The Negro was brought to Ottawa on the night of October 19th, and next morning was taken before Judge Caton. The judge discharged him from the custody of the state officials, declaring his arrest to have been illegal, but held him under a writ issued by a United States Commissioner, under the United States "fugitive slave law," remanding him to the custody of the United States Marshal, to be taken before Commissioner Conreau. Just as Judge Caton had entered the order James Stout arose and moved that the meeting resolve itself into a committee to carry out the law, the Abolitionists understanding it to mean a higher than human law. During this moment of excitement Hossack said: "If you want your liberty, come." And, urging the Negro through the passage-way made by other Abolitionists to the door and into a carriage in waiting, driven by Charles C. Campbell, the others blocked the doorway, keeping the officer and his posse in the courtroom until the fugitive was safely off. A man willing to aid the slave-power grabbed the lines to stop the horses, but, on Hossack advancing on him with upraised hand, he quickly let loose his hold, and the horses dashed away with "Jim Grey" on his road to freedom.

For this violation of law John Hossack, Dr. Stout, James Stout and five others were indicted by the Federal grand jury, and all but two were placed in jail at Chicago. They at first refused to give bail, but most of them were released a few days later on their own recognizance. John Hossack and Dr. Stout were convicted and sentenced to pay $100 fine and to serve ten day's imprisonment. When asked what he had to say why sentence should not be passed upon him, John Hossack, whose trial took place first, delivered an address to the Court, Judge Drummond, which is still remarkable as a great effort and a production of great power and eloquence. What is remarkable, is that he possessed the boldness to deliver such an address before a judge of the United States Court or any other court. During the ten days spent in jail Mr. Hossack was taken out driving by Hon. John Wentworth, mayor of Chicago, and other leading citizens, guarded by Mrs. Foltz, the jailer's wife, and feasted and banqueted by the people of Chicago, who paid the costs in the cases and lionized him and Dr. Stout. Indeed, so much prominence did this address give Mr. Hossack that he was nominated for Governor upon the Abolition ticket.

In the great struggle to put down the slave-holder's rebellion Mr. Hossack was foremost in assisting the Soldiers' Aid Society in the collection of commissary stores and supplies for the relief of sick and wounded soldiers. He continued in the grain and lumber business in Ottawa until 1873, when he became totally blind and retired from active life.

His family relations were always of a most enviable character, he idolizing his wife and children, being, in turn, idolized by them. He was the father of eleven children, and lived to see all of them grown to man and womanhood, married and settled in homes of their own. For fifty-four years -- from 1833 to 1887 -- there was not a death in this large family. In 1883 Mr. and Mrs. Hossack celebrated their golden wedding, all of their eleven children, coming from five states, being present. They, together with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, made a goodly company of fifty-eight. A brother from Quebec, Canada, Mrs. M. Wilson, a sister from Wisconsin, Mr. Lamb, a nephew, and a few intimate friends all sat down to a sumptuous feast, after which the following toasts were proposed:

"Early life of the bride and groom;" response by James Hossack, of Canada, who was present at the marriage fifty years before.

"The Hossack Family;" response by J. E. Porter, son-in-law.

"Health, happiness and long life of the bride and groom;" response by Lieut. W. W. Calkins, son-in-law.

"The bride's family;" response by William Lamb, Lockport, Ill., a nephew.

"Our Canadian cousins;" response by Capt. H. L. Hossack.

Remarks were made in conclusion by Father Hossack.

Probably so large a family, without a break in over fifty years, is without a parallel in this country.

The anniversary photograph with John and Martha and the eleven children.   Standing from left to right are Emma, James, Annie, William, Belle, Margaret, George, Louise.  Seated from left to right are Henry, Frederick, John and Martha, and John:


In the evening the family mansion was brilliantly illuminated, and the spacious parlors were filled with the old time friends and neighbors of Mr. and Mrs. Hossack. Short congratulatory addresses were made by Mayor E. C. Allen, Mr. Duncan McDougal, Dr. C. Hard, Hon. S. R. Lewis, Mr. Wm. Fyfe, Judge E. S. Leland, Dr. Joseph Stout, Hon. Wm. Cullen, Judge Charles Blanchard, Hon. Henry Mayo, Mr. E. Y. Griggs, and Mr. Wm. Osman. In response Mr. Hossack thanked his friends for their kind words to himself and wife, and said fifty years was a long time to live with one woman, but a good wife did very much to keep a man in the way he should go.

Father Hossack died Nov. 8, 1891. The funeral services were conducted from the old homestead, which for thirty-seven years was the home of the deceased philanthropist. The services were simple, yet of a character in keeping with the life of the deceased. the day was far from pleasant, yet several hundred persons ventured out to pay a slight tribute to the one who had fearlessly done his duty to man and his Maker. The services were opened with singing by the Baptist choir, of which church he was an active member for over half a century, and, in the early history of the Ottawa church, its mainstay. Rev. Harris H. Gregg offered the prayer, and then read a scriptural lesson. The 15th verse of the 15th chapter of Genesis was chosen as a fitting subject for his discourse: "And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age." Rev. Warren F. Day, who was a personal friend of Mr. Hossack, and had known of him since 1850, spoke in the highest terms of the deceased. he said: "Another link is broken, another old landmark has disappeared." after speaking of his early knowledge of the dead, in which he characterized him as one of Ottawa's foremost, pushing, thinking men, he said it was not in this relation that made the great impression of the man, but what he had done in behalf of the liberty of men, when they were bought and sold under the stars and stripes. The casket containing the remains was in the east parlor. The brief illness had not left a trace of suffering, and as he lay there it was as though peacefully sleeping. His remains were borne to their final resting place by his sons and sons-in-law.



bulletThe following verses, written by Sarah Cottew, of La Salle County, are worthy of insertion:

Judge Caton from his seat of power,

The stern decision gave

That blighted every budding hope

And backward hurled the slave,


As filled with mingled hope and dread,

Along the bloodhounds' guarded path,

With stealthy steps by night he fled

From slavery and his master's wrath.


Wrapped in the friendly shade of night,

He traveled fast and far

Beneath the moon's uncertain light,

His guide, the polar star.


But all in vain he sallied forth,

For slavery's code had stayed his course,

Even on the prairies of the North,

And held him with a desperate force.


Wide fields of cotton, rice and cane

Before his vision rose,

The smarting lash, the galling chain,

With slavery's endless woes.


But there was one among the crowd,

They called him "Honest John."

The spirit of a Wilberforce,

And Clarkson urged him on.


Ill could his noble spirit brook

The sight of fettered slave.

The victim from oppression's grasp

He boldly came to save.


With flashing eyes and head erect,

He spoke not low nor loud,

But doorward led the wandering slave,

Among the gaping crowd.


A word, a bound, two high bred steeds,

Their pointed ears to their necks were pinned.

Soon as they felt the loosened rein

They flew like before the wind.


Now safe and sound we leave the slave

Beneath the maple tree,

Which ever in the genial spring

Gives forth its sugar free.


Close grappling with the monster power

The generous Hossack stood;

'Twas his whole lifetime's proudest hour,

And proved him great and good.


A hideous, vile, misshapen thing,

All rickety from head to paw,

Came from the South one luckless spring,

And sad misfortune named it law.


And laws like these are oft diseased.

Some bear the germ of early death,

And some with hydrophobia seized,

In agony resign their breath.


From farthest coast of Oregon

To woody shores of Maine,

We listen for its dying groan,

Nor shall it be in vain.





Chicago Jail, October 3, 1860

Citizens of Cook County:

From your own jail, erected for the safe-keeping of criminals, I take the liberty of addressing you a word. I find myself surrounded by walls and bars, and associated with men charged or convicted of crimes against the peace of society, the life or property of individuals. Who am I that you citizens of the state of Illinois should erect such a place as this and give me a place in it? I am a native of the free hills of Scotland. In an early day I sought your beautiful prairies and, with the blessing of God upon the labors of my hands, made a home for my family. When your noble city, noble in its youthful vigor, more noble in its future when it becomes the western terminus of our direct European trade, and the great western shipping port for the garden of the North American continent; yes, I may say, your noble city, when it was a small village, a mere trading post, when there was neither railroad nor canal leading to it, I here exchanged my grain for supplies for my family. Since that day of small things I have aided in opening your canal, and over have sent millions of bushels of grain to your city and have taken from it many millions of feet of lumber. In all of this time I have endeavored to live peaceably with all men and provide things honest in the sight of all. Conscious as I am of many failings and imperfections, I am conscious of no one act in all this time where I intended to injure the person or property of one of my fellowmen, and I know not one man in the state of Illinois, yea, in the whole world, that I would do aught but good to if it was in my power.

Friends and neighbors know that nothing but my peculiar circumstances would lead me to write thus in reference to myself. Fellow citizens, you build jails and open their doors to innocent men, and tender the services of your sheriffs and jailers to the oligarchy of the South to hold such men as myself. What injury have I done to Cook county that she should open her jails and give me a place among her murderers and robbers? Last autumn a fellow-man, it was claimed, escaped from the house of bondage. That Providence that orders the steps of all men directed him near my door. I saw what I thought was a conspiracy of the judge, mayor, and attorneys, marshals and slave-hunters, to reduce that man to slavery, in violation of the constitution of the country. In that emergency I simply tried to do my duty to Jim Grey. I did just what I should do again if I should find you or one of your sons in the same circumstances -- their liberty exposed and trial by jury denied them. I know that I have injured no living man in this transaction. Fellow citizens, is this a free state or not? If Missouri has the power to hold slaves and you cannot interfere, have you not the right to be free from slavery? Does the law of this state seize upon the public property of this counties and place in the hands of the slave-hunters? Does the law of this state take your servants, the sheriffs and jailers, and bind them over to the supple tools of the oligarchy that treads upon the necks of four millions of human beings at home, and then claim the right to trample upon you? Are you compelled to do this by the law of the state, or do you volunteer your jails and sheriffs that innocent men have a place with the guilty? If it is the law of Illinois that opens Cook county jail to me as a felon, for what true and good men over the world will say is no crime, ought not that law to be repealed? If it is Cook county that opens her jails to receive men for acts, which if done in behalf of white men would be extolled everywhere, ought you not to arise and rid yourselves of all responsibility in imprisoning honest men of your own state? Gladly would I lay in this prison if it would arouse the people of this state to control their own jails, sheriffs, and jailers, and decree an eternal divorce between them and the despotism that wields the General Government, that blights territories, and stalks over the free states, imprisoning whom it pleases, and where it pleases. Men of Cook county, if liberty is not a farce, I ask you to ponder these things.



bulletPreface to the Anti Slavery Society’s Publication of the John Hossack Speech

[At the February term of the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, John Hossack and Joseph Stout, of Ottawa, were convicted of having aided in rescuing a fugitive slave from the custody of the U. S. Deputy Marshall at Ottawa, October 20, 1859, and sentenced by Judge Drummond to pay a fine of one hundred dollars, and be imprisoned ten days. Mr. Hossack is a Scotchman by birth, but spent many years of his life in Quebec, following the occupation of a baker. About twenty years since, he removed to Ottawa, Illinois, and assisted in the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. He has been for some years past a prominent dealer in grain, has acquired competency by enterprise and industry, and is considered one of the most upright and intelligent citizens in the community. The following Plea, made by him before the court, evinces a true nobility of soul, the highest moral integrity, the most generous humanity, and genuine manly eloquence. Let it be read in every household, so that the execution of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act, in every part of the North, shall be rendered impracticable by a regenerated public sentiment.]




May it please the court:

I have a few words to say why sentence should not be pronounced against me. I am found guilty of a violation of the fugitive slave law, and it may appear strange to Your Honor that I have no sense of guilt. I came, sir, from the tyranny of the Old World when but a lad, landed upon the American shores, having left my kindred and native land in pursuit of some place where men of toil would not be crushed by the property holding class. Commencing the struggle of life at the tender age of twelve years, a stranger in a strange land, having to earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, your Honor will bear with me, unaccustomed as I to appear in courts, much less to address them. I have feared that I might fail in bearing myself on this occasion worthy of the place and the position I occupy, and the great principles involved in the case before you. I say to your Honor, therefore, if I fail in observing the usual forms of the place it will be from a want of judgment and error of the head and not of the heart. Therefore, I do not think I shall fare worse at the hands of your Honor if I state plainly my views and feelings on the great question of the age -- the rights of man. I feel that it is a case that will be referred to long after you and I have gone to meet the great Judge of all the earth.

It has been argued by the prosecution that I, a foreigner, protected by the laws of my adopted country, should be the last to disobey those laws; but in this I find nothing should destroy any sympathy for the crushed, struggling children of toil in all lands.

Surely, I have been protected. The fish in the rivers, the quail in the stubble, the deer in the forest have been protected. Shall I join hands with those who make wicked laws in crushing out the poor black man, for whom there is no protection but in the grave, where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest?

It is true, sir, I am a foreigner. I first saw the light among the rugged and free hills of Scotland; a land, sir, that never was conquered, and where a slave never breathed. Let a slave set foot on that shore and his chains fall off forever, and he becomes what God made him -- a man. In that far off land I heard of your free institutions, your prairie lands, your projected canals, and your growing towns. Twenty-two years ago I landed in this city. I immediately engaged on the public works, on the canal then building that connects this city with the great river of the West. In the process of time the state failed to procure money to carry on the public works. I then opened a prairie farm to get bread for my family, and I am one of the men that made Chicago what it is today, having shipped some of the first grain that was exported from this city. I am, sir, one of the pioneers of Illinois who have gone through the many hardships of the settlement of a new country. I have spent my best days, the strength of my manhood. I have eleven children who are natives of this my adopted country. No living man, sir, has greater has greater interest in its welfare; and it is because I am opposed to carrying out wicked and ungodly laws, and love the freedom of my country, that I stand before you today.

Again, sir I ought not to be sentenced because, as has been argued by the prosecution, I am an Abolitionist. I have no apologies to make for being an Abolitionist. When I came to this country, like the masses beyond the sea, I was a Democrat; there was a charm to the name. But, sir, I soon found I had to go beyond the name of a party in this country in order to know anything of its principles or practice. I soon found that however much the great parties of my adopted country differed upon banks, tariffs, and land questions, in one thing they agreed, in trying which could stoop the lowest to gain the favor of the most cursed system of slavery that ever swayed an iron rod over any nation, the Moloch which they had set up, to which they offered as human sacrifices millions of the children of toil. As a man who had fled from the crushing aristocracy of my native land, how can I support a worse aristocracy in this land? I was compelled to give my name and influence to a party who proposed, at least, to embrace in its sympathies all classes of men, from all quarters of the globe. In this choice I found myself in the company of Clarkson and Wilberforce in my native land, and Washington and Franklin, and many such, in this boasted land of the free; and more than all these, the Redeemer, in whom I humbly trust for acceptance in my God, who came to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty those who were bruised; yea, this very religion binds me to those in bonds as bound with them. Tell me, sir, with these views, can I be anything but an Abolitionist? Surely, for this I ought not to be sentenced.

Again, sir, I ought not be sentenced, because the fugitive slave law, under which I am torn from my family and my business by the subtle tools of the slave hunter, is at variance with both the spirit and letter of the constitution. Sir, I place myself upon the constitution in the presence of a nation who have a declaration of independence read to them every fourth of July, and profess to believe it. Yes, in the presence of civilized man, I hold up the constitution of my adopted country, as clear from the blood of men and from a tyranny that would make crowned heads blush. The parties who prostituted the constitution to the support of slavery are traitors; traitors not only to the liberties of millions of enslaved countrymen, but traitors to the constitution itself, which they have sworn to support. a foreigner upon your soil, I go not to the platforms of the contending parties to find truth. I go, sir to the constitution of my country. the word "slave" is not to be found. I read, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice," -- yes, sir, establish justice, -- "to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America." These were the men that had proclaimed to the world that ALL men were created equal, that they were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- and contended even unto death for seven long years. Can it be, sir, that these great men, under cover of those hallowed words, intended to make a government that should outrage justice and trample upon liberty as no other government under the whole heavens [has] ever done? This dreadful power that has compelled the great political parties of the country to creep in the dust for its power; that has debauched to a large extent the Christianity of the nation; that bids a craven priesthood stand with golden rule in hand and defend the robbing of mothers of their babes and husbands of their wives; that bids courts decree injustice. sir, I plant myself upon the constitution, or demand for justice and liberty, and say to this bloody Mooch, away! sir, the world has never furnished so great a congregation of hypocrites as those who formed the constitution, if they designed to make it the greatest slave-holder, slave-breeder, and slave -catcher on earth. He is a great slave-holder that has a thousand slaves, but if this law is a true exponent of the constitution, this government, ordained for justice and liberty, holds four million slaves.

No, sir! no! for the honor of the fathers of my country, I appeal from the bloody slave-holding statute to the liberty loving constitution. While these fathers lived, state after state, in carrying out the spirit of the constitution, put an end to the dreadful system. The great Washington, in his last will and testament, carried out the spirit of the constitution. but, sir, the law under which you may sentence me violates both the letter and the spirit of the constitution. I have a word to say upon the articles of the constitution, which it is claimed the fugitive slave law is designed to carry out. "No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up upon the claim of the party to whom such service or labor is due." That is the provision that is claimed transforms the government into a monster of iniquity. I have read over and over that article interpreted by all the laws of language known to a plain man. How these three or four lines can transform this government, ordained to secure justice into a mean tool to aid the plunderers of cradles, the destroyers of homes, the ravishers of women, and the oppressors of men, to carry on their hellish work -- how can it do this thing, I cannot see. that article binds the several states separately not to pass a certain law, but where in it do we find a fugitive slave law? Where do you find a commissioner" Where do you find that the government is to hunt up and return at its own expense a slave that flees from his cruel and bloody master? Where in those lines is the authority to compel me to be a partaker in the crimes of the man-stealer? The general government is not once mentioned; but the states in their separate sovereignties are named. But, sir, this article expressly provides that the party making the claim shall have owed him service or labor due from the party claimed. If Jim Grey owed services or labor, or money, to Phillips, I am the last man in the world to raise my voice or hand to prevent Phillips or any man from obtaining their dues. What I would grant to the Devil himself I would not withhold from the slave-holder -- his due. Jim Grey claims that he does not owe Phillips a day's work or a dollar of money. Phillips claims that he owes him every day's work that has been deposited in his bones and sinews; yea, the toil of his body and mind both, till death shall end the period of stipulated toil. Here is a question for legal examination and judicial discussion. Does the man Grey owe this man Phillips anything? The constitution is very clear and very plain in pointing out the way this question is to be settled.

Article -- provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. That Jim Grey is a person, is admitted on all hands. Phillips admits it; the bloodhounds, marshals and that hunt him, say he is a person -- a person held to service. The amount in dispute is the liberty and life-long toil of a man just entering into the full maturity of manhood. A great question lies between these men. but Grey, standing on soil covered by the constitution, cannot be robbed of liberty, or the wages of his toil, only by due process of law.

Article -- says expressly, in suit at common law, when the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved. Here, sir, is a case involving the question of liberty and hundreds of dollars of money. the law, sir, under which I appear before you, overrides these plain provisions, and commits this whole question to one man, and offers him a bribe to trample right and liberty under foot. I know, sir, it may be said Jim Grey was a slave, and not entitled to these humane provisions. Had he never worn the chain of the oppressor, nor felt the lash of the bloody task-master; had he been born in Canada, or anywhere else on the globe; had he been a citizen of one of the states of this Union, and never been enslaved, it would have been all the same. His liberty would have been stricken down and he been given to the party claiming his life-long toil, and your commissioner would have pocketed the bribe offered by this law for doing such a crime against humanity and the plainest provisions of the constitution. No, sir, in a court of the United States, while the constitution provides trial by jury, I ought not be sentenced for raising my hand to rescue a fellow man from a mob that would strip him of his liberty and life-long toil without due process of law, without trial by jury. Sir, this law tramples so flagrantly upon the spirit and letter of the constitution, that I ought not to be sentenced.

Before passing from the constitutional objections to this law, I would call the attention of your Honor to the partiality of the law, which is so at variance with the designs of the fathers in organizing this government. No man can read the constitution -- in which the word "slave" cannot be found; from which the idea that a man could be reduced to a thing, and held as property, was carefully excluded -- no man, I say, can read that constitution, and conclude that slavery was to be fostered, guaranteed, and protected far beyond anything else in the country. Admit that Jim Grey was Phillips' property, how comes it that that particular property is more sacred than any other property? Phillips' horse escapes from him, and is found in a distant state, but the President of the United States, and every department of government , is not put on the track until the horse is found, and return him to Phillips' stable, and then pay the whole bill from the national treasury. No, sir. but his slave escapes; he runs away, and, for some reason, this property in man is so much more holy and sacred, that the whole government is bound to take the track and hunt the poor, panting fugitive down, and carry him back to his chains and bondage at the government's expense.

Sir, under a constitution unstained by the word "slave," we have a law magnifying slave property above all other property in the nation -- a law giving it guarantees that no other property could possibly obtain. Sir, the partiality of this law is so great that it stands opposed to a constitution that guarantees equal justice and protection to all.

John G. Fee is driven out of his Kentucky home, and robbed of the fruits of his life-long toil. There is no power to secure him his home, or protect him in his rights of property or opinion. but had John G. Fee only owned a slave, and his slave escaped, the government, under this law would have followed his slave to the utmost limit of the United States, and returned his slave to him at its own expense. Your Honor will pardon me (if I need pardon), but I cannot, for the life of me, see what there is in robbing a man of his inalienable rights and enslaving him for life, that should entitle it to the special and peculiar protection of national law.

I am aware, sir, that I shall be reminded that judges, marshals, attorneys and many citizens regard this law as constitutional, and stand ready to execute it, though, it trample every principle of the declaration of independence in the dust. sir, no law can be enacted so bad but that it will find men deluded of base enough to execute it. The law of Egypt that consigned the new-born babe to the slaughter found tools for its execution. The bloody decree of Herod found men willing to obey the law of the country, though it commanded the slaughter of the innocents of a province. Sir, tell me not of men ready and willing to execute the law. My Redeemer, whose name I am hardly worthy to speak, and yet whose name is all my trust, although He knew no sin, yet He was crucified by law.

Again, sir, it will be seen that some whom the world call doctors of divinity and doctors of law have undertaken to prove slavery was guaranteed by the constitution. If that be so, in the name of the Most High God, tear out the red strip of blood; it was not written by the Angel Gabriel, nor nailed to the throne of the Almighty. If slavery is in it, it is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.

But, sir, I have one consideration more that I will urge why sentence ought not be pronounced against me. This law, which I think I have proved outrageous to the rights of man, is so obviously at variance with the law of that God that commands me to love him with all my soul, mind, might and strength, and my neighbor as myself, and the Redeemer that took upon Him my nature and the nature of poor Jim Grey, has been so particular in telling me who my neighbor is that the path of duty is plain to me. This law so plainly tramples upon the divine law it cannot be binding upon any human being, under any circumstances, to obey it. the law that bids me to do to other men as I would have other men do to me is too, too simple to be misunderstood. but, sir, I am now left to the general law of love in searching for my duty in this particular case. Permit me to refer your Honor to the oldest law book in existence, though it may not be in use in this court, yet I think it better authority than Blackstone, or any law book that ever was written. It is the Book of books. In that Book I find some special enactments given to the Hebrew commonwealth that leaves me no doubt as to my duty in reference to this law: "He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hands, he shall surely be put to death." Again: "Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best, thou shalt not oppress him." These plain statutes, with many more that I might give, leaves me in no doubt as to the mind of the unchanging Jehovah in reference to man-stealing and slave hunting. Sir, the whole system of slavery originated in man-stealing, and is perpetuated by fraud and violence and plunder. Others may have their doubts as to their duty under this law. I, sir, have none. This law is just as binding on me as was the law of Egypt to slaughter the Hebrew children; just as binding as the law that said, worship the golden image, worship not God; just as binding as the law forbidding Christ and his Apostles to preach the gospel. Send me a law bidding me to rob or murder my neighbor; I must decline to obey it. I can suffer, but I must not do wrong. Send me a law bidding me to join hand in robbing my fellow-men of their freedom; I cannot do so great a wrong. Yea, send me a law bidding me to stop up my ears at the cry of the poor, I can suffer the loss of all these hands have earned, I can suffer bonds and imprisonment, yes, God helping me, I can give up my life, but I cannot knowingly trample upon the law of my God, nor upon the bleeding prostrate form of my fellow man. I go not to Missouri to relieve oppressed humanity, for my duty has called me nearer to home; but when He that directs the steps of men conducts a poor, oppressed, panting fugitive to my door, and there I hear his bitter cry, I dare not close my ear against it, lest in my extremity I cry for mercy and shall not be heard. Sir, this law so flagrantly outrages the divine law that I ought not be sentenced under it.

A single remark and I am done. From the testimony, part of which is false, and from your rendering and interpretation of the law, the jury have found me guilty; yes, guilty of carrying out the great principles of the declaration of independence; yes, guilty of carrying out the still greater principles of the Son of God. Great God, can these things be? Can it be possible? What country is this? Can it be that I live in a land boasting of freedom, of morality, of Christianity? How long, oh how long shall the people bow down and worship this great image set up in this nation? Yes, the jury say guilty, but recommend me to the mercy of the Court. Mercy, sir, is kindness to the guilty. I am guilty of no crime; I, therefore, ask for no mercy. No, sir, I ask for no mercy; I ask for justice. Mercy is what I ask of my God. justice in the courts of my adopted country is all I ask. It is the inhuman and infamous law that is wrong, not me.

My feelings are at home. My wife and my children are dear to my heart. But, sir, I have counted the cost. I am ready to die, if need be, for the oppressed of my race. But slavery must die, and when my country shall have passed through the terrible conflict which the destruction of slavery must cost, and when the history of the great struggle shall be candidly be written, the rescuers of Jim Grey will be considered as having done honor to God, to humanity, and to themselves.

I am told there is no appeal, yet I do appeal to the court of high heaven, where Judge Drummond and Judge Caton, the rescuer and the rescued, shall all have to stand at the judgment seat of the Most High.

I have, sir, endeavored to obey the divine law, and all the laws of my country that do not conflict with the laws of God. My humble wish is that it may then appear that I have done my duty. All I wish to be written on my tombstone is: "He feared God and loved his fellow men."

Chicago, Ill., Oct. 3, 1860.





These men are thus punished because they did for a fellow man what every one of us would do even for a hunted and persecuted dog! For obeying the dictates of common humanity and of pure Christianity they must thus suffer. And this is the latter half of the nineteenth century! Last night Hossack and his two companions in bondage stood at the grated windows of their cells, and beheld long lines of men dressed in uniform, bearing torches, marching to the sound of martial music, and piercing the ear of night with acclamations of honor to Stephen A. Douglas. that statesmen claims as one of his chief recommendations to public honor and esteem the fact that he labored and voted for the passage of the law, under the provisions of which these men, of pure and blameless life, are now torn from their families and immured with felons. On the one side of the grates were men who had done only what Christ and his apostles would have done -- what every man with a heart true to humanity must have done. on the other side, a man who, at best, cares not whether slavery is voted up or voted down; cares not whether our country shall be free or slave; cares not whether the laborer shall own his own his own sinews and the fruits of his own toil, or whether they shall be the property of another. The friends of freedom are rewarded with a prison cell and prison fare. For the enemy of freedom -- or, at least, the equal friend of slavery and freedom -- are proud processions, shouts of welcome and enthusiastic manifestations. these men will be honored and loved when the name of Douglas will be forgotten.


This website is produced by Jay W. Preston to honor John Hossack, the Abolitionist of Ottawa, Illinois.  The father dedicates this to his son, Yujin Jay Preston (1979-1999), daughter Elika, and daughter Yuli, great great great grandchildren of John Hossack. Permission to reprint this material is granted when this notice is included in full.  © 2000 - 2010 Jay W. Preston.  For information, comments or contributions of time, money, information, materials, or manpower to this site: E-mail Copyrights of works cited, quoted, or excerpted remain with the respective owners, if not in public domain.