Logline

When authorities arrested fugitive slave Joshua Glover in 1854, some 5,000 of his Wisconsin neighbors rallied to his aid, breaking down the jail door and escorting him to freedom. Their efforts set in motion a series of events with historic consequences, ultimately leading to slavery’s demise.

Synopsis

Joshua Glover was a black man living in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1854. He worked at a sawmill and had his own home. Life was simple but good – until a white man appeared at a Milwaukee courthouse claiming that Glover was a criminal.A posse was formed and made its way to Racine, 30 miles to the south. On a dark evening in March, they entered Glover’s home, beat him and placed him in manacles before tossing him into a wagon. Glover, bleeding and freezing, was carted off to a Milwaukee jail.Racine residents heard about the arrest and sent a telegram to a Milwaukee newspaper editor named Sherman Booth. He, in turn, spread the word throughout the Milwaukee area. Soon an angry mob of thousands surrounded the courthouse and demanded authorities release Glover to them.

Eventually they took matters into their own hands, battered down the jailhouse door, overwhelmed the guards and dragged the captive into the street.Most viewers probably won’t expect what happens next. The crowd whisks Glover away in a waiting carriage and hides him from federal authorities. Over the next few weeks, they conceal him in homes and barns along the Underground Railroad and eventually smuggle Glover to Canada to prevent his Missouri slaveowner from reclaiming his “property.”The motives of these liberty-conscious Wisconsinites were merciful, not malevolent.

Just days after the rescue, a group of antislavery Wisconsinites to meet in Ripon, Wisconsin, to form a new political entity: the Republican Party. Motivated by opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, disparate factions of Northern Democrats, Whigs and Free-Soil members would unite under the banner of liberty and opportunity. Though divided on a range of issues, their unifying objective was to limit slavery’s expansion and fulfill America’s declaration that all men are endowed with an unalienable right to liberty.The formation of this new party, its successes at the state and national level, and the six-year court battles that embroiled some of Glover’s rescuers would further exacerbate relations between North and South.Liberty at Stake will follow the life of Glover from his purchase by Garland in St. Louis in 1850, his daring escape two years later and his new life in Racine. Historians and authors will describe the chaotic, inspiring events of March 10-11, 1854, Glover’s travels in the Underground Railroad and his new life in a community outside Toronto, Canada, where he spent the rest of his days.The film will recount these and related events that culminated in the election of Lincoln, Southern secession, Civil War and, ultimately, emancipation.



Director’s Statement

When I first heard about the events surrounding Joshua Glover, I knew it was a story that needed telling. As a history lover and lifelong storyteller, I was struck by a real-life narrative that had it all: drama, conflict, heroics, villainy, fear, sacrifice … and an unexpected twist. The protagonist was a true underdog, the antagonist a heartless scoundrel. It was an old-fashioned tale of good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath.I was moved by the plight of Glover, a fugitive slave from Missouri who found sanctuary in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1852. He escaped from a St. Louis farm, hiked 400 miles with a bounty on his head and found a job at a sawmill not far from Lake Michigan. His “owner,” Benammi Garland, hired slave catchers to track him down, and by February 1854 they had accomplished their nefarious task. Garland traveled to Milwaukee and appeared before a judge to reclaim Glover under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.A posse that included federal marshals descended upon Glover’s home on the evening of March 10, 1854. He was playing cards with friends when Garland and the others swooped in. Glover was beaten and carted off to a Milwaukee jail, destined for a renewed life of bondage.Fortunately, the good people of Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha got wind of the arrest and envisioned a different outcome. As word of Glover’s incarceration spread, some 5,000 people gathered outside the jail. They demanded that legal rights, like a writ of habeus corpus and a jury trial, be extended to Glover. When it became clear these would be denied, the mob broke down the courthouse door, overwhelmed the guards and swept Glover to a waiting carriage. They moved him about the Underground Railroad for a few weeks until they secured him safe passage on a boat to Canada. Glover was free.It was a remarkable and little-known story, but I later discovered there was even more to it than I first realized. The arrest and rescue of Glover were a catalyst for even more dramatic and historic events. It wasn’t until early 2023, when I was at an estate sale rummaging through thousands of books once owned by a retired history professor, that I came across The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution and the Coming of the Civil War by H. Robert Baker, an associate professor of legal and constitutional history at Georgia State University. I continued to scrounge, finding at least two dozen books on Wisconsin history, slavery in America, the abolition movement and related topics. I bought them all.As I began to read through this new collection, I discovered that the story didn’t end with Glover’s arrival on Canadian soil. Just days later, an ardent group of Wisconsinites – incensed by the efforts to return Glover to slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act that made it possible – met in the tiny village of Ripon, Wisconsin, to form a new political party. Disillusioned by the failure of the Democrat, Whig, Liberty and Free Soil parties to effectively counter the “slave powers,” these abolitionists called themselves Republicans. A few months later they would hold a convention in the state capital of Madison and dedicate the new Republican Party to “the defense of freedom.”This development, coupled with later Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings in favor of those who helped rescue Glover, widened the North-South chasm further, sparking Southern talk of secession. When Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 general election, the slave states followed through on this threat. The attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 launched a destructive, four-year war between the states. During the course of the Civil War, Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation and a measure revoking the Fugitive Slave Act. The Reconstruction Amendments passed after the war would ultimately end the institution of slavery in America.Liberty at Stake: The Joshua Glover Story will tell the tale of this brave man, the passionate Wisconsinites who helped secure his freedom and the nation that struggled with the aftermath.


Help us tell this story!

Donate to this project.


The characters

Joshua Glover

The protagonist in our story, Glover was sold to Benammi Garland, a St. Louis estate owner, in 1850. Two years later he escaped, traveling 400 miles to the abolitionist-minded community of Racine, Wisconsin. He lived and worked there for two years before Garland caught up with him and had him arrested on March 10, 1854. As news of Glover’s arrest got out, some 5,000 liberty-loving Wisconsinites rallied to his aid, breaking him out of jail and eventually smuggling him to Canada.

Benammi Garland

Owner of a flourishing estate just outside St. Louis, Garland owned more than 300 acres of land worked by half a dozen slaves, including Glover. When Glover escaped, Garland hired slave catchers who tracked him down in Racine. Garland went to court in Milwaukee to reclaim his “property” and, with the help of federal marshals, captured Glover at his home. Garland would later sue some of the rescuers in an effort to recoup his losses.

Alvan Bovay

Wisconsin attorney, abolitionist and politician who was instrumental in the gathering in Ripon that contributed to the formation of the Republican Party.

James Buchanan

President from 1857 to 1861, Buchanan pardoned Sherman Booth of criminal charges related to Glover’s rescue.

Judge Edward G. Ryan

Hired by the U.S. attorney in Wisconsin to assist in the prosecutions of Rycraft and Booth, Ryan would later serve as chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Roger B. Taney

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who presided over the infamous Dred Scott case and overruled the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its findings for Booth and its nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Sherman Booth

Booth was a staunch abolitionist and the editor of the Free Democrat newspaper in Milwaukee. On March 11, 1854, Booth played a pivotal role in spreading the word about Glover’s detention and stirring the crowd to action. Following the rescue, Booth faced high-profile criminal and civil trials that fueled constitutional debates and dragged on for six years. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court eventually freed him, ruling the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to be unconstitutional. Booth was pardoned by President James Buchanan just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.

A.P. Dutton

A Racine businessman and agent of the Underground Railroad who was instrumental in getting Glover on a ship to Canada.

Abraham lincoln

Less than six years after the Republican Party was formed, Lincoln was chosen as its presidential nominee. After his election in 1860, secession and Civil War followed. During his first term, Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation and repeal the Fugitive Slave Law.

Andrew G. Miller

A federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Eastern Wisconsin, Miller issued the warrant for Glover’s arrest. He would later preside over the rescuers’ trials and, in contrast with the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, upheld the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act and federal jurisdiction in the Sherman Booth and John Rycraft cases.

Byron Paine

A pioneering attorney in Wisconsin’s civil rights movement, Paine represented Sherman Booth against charges of violating the Fugitive Slave Act. Paine made the case that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional, eventually convincing the Wisconsin Supreme Court to nullify the federal statute and release his client. Paine would later serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Salmon P. Chase

A well-regarded jurist, Chase influenced the legal debate over the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, informing the arguments of Byron Paine in defending Booth. He would later serve in Lincoln’s cabinet and become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.



Help us tell this story!

Donate to this project.




ENDORSEMENTS

Robert Woodson, founder and president of the Woodson Center

Americans are too often presented with a distorted view of our nation’s racial history. It isn’t just a history of oppression; it's also a history of people who stood against oppression. The story of Joshua Glover is a powerful example of how an entire city came together, united by the American ideal of liberty, in order to protect a fugitive slave.Joshua’s rescue served as a catalyst for historic events that would eventually lead to slavery’s demise. It’s important that Americans, especially our young people, hear the whole story. Liberty at Stake will help paint a fuller, more unifying picture of America’s racial legacy.

Mike Grebe, former CEO of the Bradley Foundation, former CEO of Foley & Lardner and former general counsel to the RNC

Wisconsin played a critical role in the historic events leading to the end of institutional slavery in the United States. From the public squares of Racine and Milwaukee to the Little White School House in Ripon and the State Supreme Court in Madison, the people of Wisconsin took a firm stand on behalf of Joshua Glover—and the right of every American to enjoy the fruits of liberty. This film will remind Wisconsin residents—and all Americans—of this proud legacy.

Eloise Anderson, administrator, Gov. Walker, Tommy Thompson administrations

The Joshua Glover story is important to tell. Americans, especially those in Wisconsin, have little to no knowledge of what so many did to advance freedom, even in defiance of federal law. Many do not know about the Fugitive Slave Laws and how Wisconsinites reeled against them. Many everyday Wisconsinites have ancestors, great grandparents, who were involved in freeing Joshua Glover.Creating a documentary about the Joshua Glover story would be impactful. It's not just about Joshua but about how a people joined in solidarity with another human being for freedom. It also would provide a needed understanding that white Wisconsinites need in order to appreciate their history in support of blacks’ humanity and freedom. And for blacks, many need to know about the actions of many Wisconsinites in Racine and Milwaukee who were instrumental in freeing Joshua.

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson

No story better captures the compassion and fierce independence of Wisconsin Badgers than that of the fugitive slave Joshua Glover and the estimated 5,000 Wisconsinites who took action to prevent his return to bondage. Liberty at Stake will showcase the role Wisconsin played in this national drama and the shared fight for freedom and dignity — leading, ultimately, to the abolition of slavery.

Former Gov. Scott Walker

The story of Joshua Glover is powerful. It would be wonderful to share it when the world is watching the convention in Milwaukee next summer in a state where the Republican Party was started by a group of people opposed to slavery.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

The evil of slavery should never be forgotten, nor should the fact that many Americans fought heroically to end it. The story of Joshua Glover can serve to remind us that even in the face of evil, good can and must prevail.

Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan

Americans deserve stories of hope, stories of optimism, stories capturing the best of who we are as a country. The story of Joseph Glover is one that needs to be told, particularly during the Republican National Convention when the entire world is focused on Milwaukee. The birth of the Republican Party was undoubtedly set in motion by the events involving Joseph Glover and his story is an under-recognized instance of Wisconsinites playing an enormous role in shaping our nation’s politics.

Joseph Glover’s story shows how unity can triumph over division. It shows how, even when our nation was deeply divided, Wisconsinites came together as a community to do the right thing. And it shows that standing up for our principles and our fellow citizens can influence the trajectory of our country for centuries to come. I cannot wait for more people to hear this amazing story.”

Rebecca Kleefisch, former Wisconsin Lt. Governor

American history is much more robust and inspiring than what our young people get from today’s media and education system. While we should not attempt to scrub the blots from our past, we should be equally unwilling to overlook the bright moments that brought us together and reflected our founding ideals. The story of Joshua Glover is one of those moments where Americans, at great personal risk, lived out the values they espoused.Our nation is divided. Our young people have been taught to be suspicious of and angry toward the very country where they enjoy unequaled liberty and prosperity. Americans need to be reminded of the goodness and greatness that made the United States a beacon of light and hope for the world. As a longtime communicator and storyteller, Michael has the experience, passion and ability to bring the Joshua Glover story to life.


Donate to this project.




Follow our journey — as we follow Joshua’s — by signing up for our e-newsletter.


©2024 Living Stories LLC
A documentary by Michael Jahr
Produced by Christian Taylor
Please consider a tax-deductible donation to help us get the film made, and tell this incredible story.
All images on this site are the property of their respective copyright holders.