Moment of Indiana History

A Pocket Of Abolitionism In Fort Wayne

The short-lived "Fort Wayne Standard" suggests that Indiana, despite its mostly conservative political leanings, was also home to more radical political views.

poster from 1855 advertising meeting of those in favor of keeping western states such as Kansas free from slavery

Photo: archive image

Although many Hoosiers supported the Free Soil movement to keep slavery out of new territories, including Kansas and Nebraska, Indiana was not a bastion of progressive thought with regard to the slavery issue. For a year, though, one Fort Wayne periodical advocated for abolition.

During the decade leading up to the Civil War, Indiana did not stand out as a bastion of abolitionist sentiment in the North. Many Hoosiers supported the Free Soil movement to keep slavery out of new territories, including Kansas and Nebraska; many also opposed slavery as an institution, believing that it degraded labor and the ideals of a free nation.

The majority of Hoosiers, however, shared the racial prejudices of the day, believing that African American slaves were inferior to whites and predicting dire consequences should blacks be freed to live as full citizens of the nation.

For one year from June 1854 to June 1855, however, the citizens of Fort Wayne could turn weekly to the pages of the Fort Wayne Standard, not only for editorial support of Free Soil politics and the temperance movement, but to read articles promoting the abolition of slavery.

The newspaper was begun by Daniel W. Burroughs, New England-born and an abolitionist pastor in Ohio in the 1830s. Burroughs came to Fort Wayne in 1848 to serve the city’s First Baptist Church but resigned two years later and opened a printing business, and then a newspaper. One of Burroughs’ co-editors was fellow abolitionist and local politician Charles Case, who would go on to represent the city in the U.S. House of Representatives. Isaac Julian, brother of abolitionist politician George Washington Julian, also served as an editor for the Standard.

The newspaper set about to educate its readers, carrying frequent stories on runaway slaves—the conditions they had escaped and the brutality of the slave catchers who pursued them. The editors also detailed the many restrictions and indignities imposed on free blacks who lived in Indiana, and they covered trials of Underground Railroad supporters who had been arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act.

By the late 1850s, after the paper had ceased publication, Burroughs faded from prominence; Charles Case and Isaac Julian, however, went on to champion the political causes of abolition and the preservation of the Union for the rest of the decade and through the years of the Civil War.

The short-lived Fort Wayne Standard serves as a reminder that Indiana, despite its generally conservative political leanings, was also home to more radical political views, and that the cause of abolition found proponents throughout the North.

Source: Peggy Seigel, “The Fort Wayne Standard: A Reform Newspaper in the 1850s Storm,” Indiana Magazine of History 97 (September 2001).

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

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