Context (Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address),

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:

I couldn't find deliver up in the dictionaries. So I just want to make sure with a native speaker -- Do you think that the construction here is actually deliver + up, and up is just used here for emphasis?

See 6. b —used as an intensifier in Merriam-Webster.


2 Answers 2


Lincoln is saying that there is much controversy about whether runaways from "service or labor" should be given up to their former masters on demand, rather than being protected from going back. The structure is:

There is much controversy about the [handing over/sending back] of [fugitives from service or labor] when their masters demand their return.

So here deliver [something] up means to surrender it back.

  • 1
    Agreed. There is a slim chance that "up" was just added for intensifier... Aug 13, 2011 at 19:40
  • I was interpreting it in a totally wrong way! :D I thought Lincoln is referring the [setting free] + [up] of [fugitives from service or labor]. This time I find this usage in the dictionary. See 4. deliver somebody/something (up/over) (to somebody): to give somebody/something to somebody else so that they are under this person's control in <a href="oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com/dictionary/deliver" title="OALD">OALD</a>. Thank you everyone.
    – Socorro
    Aug 14, 2011 at 5:58

This refers to the American "peculiar institution" of slavery. Even Abraham Lincoln admitted that the U.S. Constitution, as originally written, required that runaway slaves be "delivered up" (handed back) to their former masters, strange as that may seem today.

The irony was that the southern states did not accept this "guarantee," but seceded from the United States. This led to the Civil War, and the re-writing of the Constitution (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) to abolish slavery.

Contrary to historical imagination, Lincoln was NOT out to "free the slaves." His mandate was to "preserve the union." But when the Confederacy tried to assert both slavery AND secession, the destruction of one led to the destruction of the other.

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