Alexander Gardiner (1818-1851)


TENURE:  1845 – 1/21/1851




James Hamlet (1850) – 1 returned

  • Gardiner’s warrant of arrest issued for James Hamlet. [1850-10-03 NY National Anti-Slavery Standard]
  • Handling the first case under the new law, Commissioner Gardiner also oversaw the first implementation of Section 9. [1850-10-03 NY National Anti-Slavery Standard]


Gardiner was the brother-in-law of President John Tyler. While he handled the first case under the law, occurring on September 26, 1850, he died just months later at the age of 32.

  • After the New York Atlas blasted Gardiner, his brother-in-law John Tyler sprung to his defense. Writing an anonymous editorial to the Portsmouth, Virginia Pilot entitled “The Fugitive Slave Bill and Commissioner Gardiner,” Tyler denigrated the editors of the Atlas as “jackasses” who had “in the language of low blackguardism with which they seem to be familiar” condemned Gardiner. Tyler praised his brother-in-law for his handling of the case, noting that “the fugitive was promptly dealt by and restored to his owner in Baltimore. Mr. Gardiner has proven himself to be a faithful public servant, an honest man, and a patriot. And yet, by a certain class of editors in New York he is sneered at, and an effort is made to excite dislike towards him on the part of the public.” [1850-10-15 Portsmouth VA Daily Pilot] For the original October 12, 1850 letter Tyler sent to S. Cunningham, the editor of the Pilot, see the eBay listing, while for Tyler’s previous support of the paper (which he believed “might be made the instrument of doing me justice at least to some extent”), see his letter to Gardiner on January 7, 1850, in which he encouraged Gardiner to solicit subscriptions for the Pilot in New York, in order to “give greater boldness to the paper.”
  • News of Gardiner’s death was reprinted in papers throughout the country. One editorial praised the late commissioner for his “prompt execution of the fugitive slave law, recently passed by congress…. With clear intellect and sound judgement he gave an interpretation to the act of Congress, which has served as a precedent to guide in all other cases, and has done more than any other single act to strengthen and confirm the bonds of Union.” [1851-02-12 Raleigh NC Weekly Register]