HERMAN MELVILLE’S MOBY-DICK AND THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT OF 1850
Jeffery Hole, Ph.D.
San Francisco Maritime Research Center, Fort Mason Center BLDG E.
From correspondence with British publisher Richard Bentley in June of 1850, it appears that Herman Melville initially set out to write “a romance of adventure founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries.” This is not quite the narrative that entered into print a year later, however. After Melville had already begun work on his manuscript, President Fillmore, on September 18, 1850, signed legislation that would expand federal power for the interstate rendition of fugitive slaves. In this lecture, we will explore how Melville’s 1851 publication of Moby-Dick offers a critical representation of the politics and philosophical problems that emerged with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.