Digitizing a movement By Colin Manning (FAS Communications May 1, 2013)
Citizens of East Dennis, Mass., filed this petition against the repeal of the Personal Liberty Laws. These laws were passed in several Northern free states in response to the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. States began repealing Personal Liberty Laws in hopes of averting war between the states.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, thousands of petitions were sent to the Massachusetts Legislature asking lawmakers to abolish slavery and end segregation, and urging them to refuse to cooperate with the federal Fugitive Slave Act. The petitions — signed and circulated by abolitionists and former slaves, as well as members of the literary and social elite — help to paint a clearer picture of the lives of African-Americans in the young United States.
A project undertaken by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University is cataloging, transcribing, and digitizing 4,000 to 6,000 of the petitions housed at the Massachusetts State Archives, making them accessible to scholars around the world.
The Center for American Political Studies received a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the project, which in addition to the digitized petitions will include an interactive map, with connections to statistical and geographical data. Completion of the project is slated for June 2015.