In March 1854, news reached Madison of “a tremendous excitement in Milwaukee and Racine in consequence of an attempt by B. S. Garland of Missouri to reclaim Joshua Glover, a runaway slave from Missouri. A slave catcher has dared to come to Wisconsin to carry one of our men into slavery.”
Glover was kidnapped from a shack near Racine by a deputy federal marshal and three associates while he was playing cards with two other black men. He was bludgeoned over the head, manacled, and taken to the Milwaukee jail. Racine newspaper editor Sherman Booth mounted a horse, rode “bald-headed and full-bearded through the streets of Milwaukee,” and gathered a crowd of several thousand who met at the courthouse and demanded Glover’s release on a writ of habeas corpus. The crowd then went to the jail, rammed the door open with a large timber, freed Glover, and soon spirited him to Canada. Booth was arrested for violating the Fugitive Slave Act by aiding and abetting his escape.
On June 9 editors around the state issued a call to “All Men opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the Extension of Slavery, and the rule of the Slave Powers” to meet at Madison on Thursday, July 13, “to take such measures as be deemed necessary to prevent the future encroachments of the slave power, to repeal all Compromises in favor of slavery, and to establish the principle of Freedom as the rule of the state and national governments. The time has come for the union of all Free Men for the sake of Freedom. There is but one alternative. We must UNITE and be FREE, or DIVIDE and be ENSLAVED by the praetorian bands of the slaveholders and their Nebraska allies.”
More than two thousand delegates responded, meeting on the Capitol lawn from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Said the Wisconsin State Journal: “It was a proud day for Wisconsin yesterday. No such political gathering was ever before seen in this state. Two thousand men of all parties, natives of the old world and new, their former political proclivities and prejudices melted down and merged in the one great idea that the liberties of the nation are threatened with destruction by the slaveholders of the south and the doughfaces of the north.” They listened to speeches by future Madison mayor Harlow Orton, future governor Louis Powell Harvey, and Sherman Booth. They passed resolutions: that we accept this issue (the government shall be slave or free) forced upon us by the slave power, and in the defense of freedom will cooperate and be known as Republicans; that we will restore Kansas and Nebraska to be free territories; that we will repeal the Fugitive Slave Act; that we will restrict slavery to states where it exists; that we will prohibit admission of new slave states; and that we will exclude slavery from all territories and acquire no new territories unless they shall be free. “They adjourned with nine tremendous cheers for the Republican party of Wisconsin.”
Six days later, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, freeing Booth from federal jurisdiction on the grounds that the Fugitive Slave Act under which he had been indicted and convicted was unconstitutional.