Information

1850-Fugitive Slave Act - History


A poster from the time

The implementation of the Compromise of 1850 further radicalized the conflict over slavery. The Constitution had ensured the rights of slave holders to retrieve their slaves. It did not, however, provide a mechanism for doing so. The Fugitive Slave Act called for special commissioners to determine whether slaves were fugitives. There was no right to appeal, and federal marshals were forced to help in the recapture of the slaves. Northern abolitionists were appalled by the enforcement of the law. In many cases, Northern abolitionists forcibly obstructed the return of slaves. Many of those arrested had been living in the North for many years. Throughout the 1850's, 322 slaves were returned to the South.



On September 18, 1850 President Filmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act. Eight days later a man appeared in New York from Baltimore with a power of attorney, claiming that James Hamlet was a slave of Mrs Brown. The New York Commissioner immediately complied. The slave was transported back to Baltimore. Eight hundred dollars were raised by antislavery forces to buy James Hamlet’s freedom.

On December 31st three men appeared at the house of Joseph Miller in Pennsylvania and kidnapped Rachel Parker claiming she was an escaped slave. A group of eighth immediately organized to pursue them. They arrived in Baltimore to the public slave pen and protested the Rachel Parker was a free born Pennsylvanian. Authorities in Baltimore ordered that she be held for trail and fourteen months later she was freed.
In February Frederick Jenkins was found in Boston serving as a waiter by his former owners agent. He was arrested and thanks to legal intervention he was held over for trail. He was detained at the Federal Court House. A crowd came together and freed the former slave. He was quickly spirited out of Boston to Canada. In April 1851 Thomas Sims was found in Boston and arrested on a bogus charge of theft. This time the federal building was guarded by a four foot chain fence. Sims was eventually carried back to Georgia.

In September 1851 Edward Gorush a Marylander and his son arrived at Christiana in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There were a number of slaves in a home there. Gorush and US officials went to the home and demanded the surrender of the fugitives. Shots broke out and in the ensuing fight Gorush was killed and his son wounded. Quaker bystanders refused to help the Marshalls and were tried for treason, they were acquitted and the former slaves escaped.


Sept. 18, 1850: Fugitive Slave Act Passed

On Sept. 18, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which required that people who had escaped from slavery be captured and returned.

Textbooks often repeat the propaganda of Confederate apologists:

The Civil War was fought to preserve states rights.

However, that simply is not true. Where was this love for states rights when the South demanded strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, so that Northern states could not become a haven for people escaping slavery?

“The Compromise of 1850 enacted the draconian Fugitive Slave Act, which demanded that all American citizens act as slave patrollers,” explains Manisha Sinha in “Civil War Revisionism Still Shames America.”

And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, . . . or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, . . . shall be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months. [From Fugitive Slave Act.]

People who were captured were not allowed to testify in their own defense.

In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence. . . [From Fugitive Slave Act.]

The lessons and other resources below can be used to teach about the Fugitive Slave Act.

Related Resources

‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 16 pages. Rethinking Schools.
In this lesson, students explore many of the real challenges faced by abolitionists with a focus on the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Poetry of Defiance: How the Enslaved Resisted

Teaching Activity. By Adam Sanchez.
Through a mixer activity, students encounter how enslaved people resisted the brutal exploitation of slavery. The lesson culminates in a collective class poem highlighting the defiance of the enslaved.

Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War

Teaching Guide. Edited by Adam Sanchez. 181 pages. 2019. Rethinking Schools.
Students will discover the real abolition story, one about some of the most significant grassroots social movements in U.S. history.

The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery

Picture book. By Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin. Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. 2013.
Story of John Price’s escape to freedom with the help of the Oberlin–Wellington Rescue.

The Journey of Little Charlie

Books – Fiction. By Christopher Paul Curtis. 2018. 256 pages.
A novel for young adults that that shows how slavery was state-sanctioned terrorism and the impact of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Black Abolitionists

Profiles. Zinn Education Project. 2014.
Brief biographies of 25 Black abolitionists.

Oct. 1, 1851: The Jerry Rescue

Abolitionists freed a man captured under Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in Syracuse, New York.

Sept. 13, 1858: Oberlin Wellington Rescue

Eighteen-year-old John Price was arrested by a federal marshal in Oberlin, Ohio under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Oct. 16, 1859: Abolitionist Raid on Harpers Ferry

An abolitionist raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, WV — in an attempt to start an armed revolt against the institution of slavery.

April 27, 1860: Harriet Tubman Helped Rescue Charles Nalle

Harriet Tubman helped to rescue Charles Nalle, a fugitive from slavery in Virginia, in Troy, New York.


Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Acts were congressional statutes passed in 1793 and 1850 that permitted for the seizure and return of runaway slaves who escaped from one state and fled into another ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as a part of the Compromise of 1850, required that the U.S. government actively intervene to help slave owners regain control over their slaves (Ohio History Connection, n.d.). This act dictated that fugitive slaves were neither allowed to testify on their own behalf, nor were they allowed to have a trial by jury ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.) . This was “justified” through legislators’ claims that African Americans could not be United States citizens and thus were not afforded any protections (Ohio History Connection, n.d.).

Moreover, federal marshals who refused to enforce the law and individuals who helped slaves to escape were heavily penalized and were fined $1,000 (Ohio History Connection, n.d.). Furthermore, special commissioners were given concurrent jurisdiction with U.S. courts enforcing this act ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.) . This was determined to be wildly corrupt, for these special commissioners were paid $10 to rule in favor of slave owners, but they only received $5 if they sided with slaves. Between 1850 and 1860, 343 fugitive slaves appeared before these special commission, and of those, 332 were returned to slavery in the South (Ohio History Connection, n.d.).

The severity of this statute inspired an increased number of abolitionists, the development of a more efficient Underground Railroad , and the establishment of new personal-liberty laws in the North ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.) . These personal liberty laws were enacted in eight Northern States and prohibited state officials from assisting in returning fugitive slaves to the South (Olson & Mendoza, 2015). This prominent resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 incited further hostility between the North and the South and bolstered the controversy over slavery ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.) . Anti-Fugitive Slave Act riots erupted all over the North in 1851 (Olson & Mendoza, 2015). The Fugitive Slave Acts were not repealed until June 28, 1864 ( Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.) .

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Fugitive Slave Acts: United States (1793, 1850). In Encyclopedia Britannica online . Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Fugitive-Slave-Acts

Ohio History Connection. (n.d.). Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Ohio History Central. Retrieved from http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Fugitive_Slave_Law_of_1850

Olson, J. S. & Mendoza, A. O. (2015). Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. In American Economic History: A Dictionary and Chronology . Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.


(1850) Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the Circuit Courts of the United States, and Who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same under and by the virtue of the thirty-third section of the act of the twenty-fourth of September seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, entitled “An Act to establish the judicial courts of the United States” shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Sec. 2.
And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each organized Territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States and all commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Sec. 3.
And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of the commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.

Sec. 4.
And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several States, and the judges of the Superior Courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in term-time and vacation shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to ake and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled.

Sec. 5.
And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the Circuit or District Court for the district of such marshal and after arrest of such fugitive, by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or District whence he escaped: and the better to enable the said commissioners, when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently, in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time, to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties with authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to ensure a faithful observance of the clause of the Constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State within which they are issued.

Sec. 6.
And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, ha: heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service 01 labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.

Sec. 7.
And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.

Sec. 8.
And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said District and Territorial Courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed for similar services in other cases and where such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in whole by such claimant, his or her agent or attorney and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued by such commissioner for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as aforesaid, shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest, and take before any commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them such as attending at the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination of such commissioners and, in general, for performing such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near as may be practicable, and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor be ordered to be delivered to such claimant by the final determination of such commissioner or not.

Sec. 9.
And be it further enacted, That, upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will be rescued by force from his or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the State in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State whence he fled, and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent, or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such force, and to retain them in his service so long as circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while so employed, to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.

Sec. 10.
And be it further enacted, That when any person held to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be and a transcript of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State, Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other officer authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant. And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized by this act to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon the production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person identified and proved to be owing service or labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the State or Territory from which he escaped: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in law.


Fugitive Slave Act 1850

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the Circuit Courts of the United States, and Who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same under and by the virtue of the thirty-third section of the act of the twenty-fourth of September seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, entitled “An Act to establish the judicial courts of the United States” shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each organized Territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States and all commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of the commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.

And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several States, and the judges of the Superior Courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in term-time and vacation shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled.

And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the Circuit or District Court for the district of such marshal and after arrest of such fugitive, by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or District whence he escaped: and the better to enable the said commissioners, when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently, in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time, to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties with authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to ensure a faithful observance of the clause of the Constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State within which they are issued.

And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.

And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.

And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said District and Territorial Courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed for similar services in other cases and where such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in whole by such claimant, his or her agent or attorney and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued by such commissioner for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as aforesaid, shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest, and take before any commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them such as attending at the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination of such commissioners and, in general, for performing such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near as may be practicable, and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor be ordered to be delivered to such claimant by the final determination of such commissioner or not.

And be it further enacted, That, upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will he rescued by force from his or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the State in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State whence he fled, and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent, or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such force, and to retain them in his service so long as circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while so employed, to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.

And be it further enacted, That when any person held to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be and a transcript of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State, Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other office, authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant, And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized by this act to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon the production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person identified and proved to be owing service or labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the State or Territory from which he escaped: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in law.


Fugitive Slave Acts

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Fugitive Slave Acts, in U.S. history, statutes passed by Congress in 1793 and 1850 (and repealed in 1864) that provided for the seizure and return of runaway slaves who escaped from one state into another or into a federal territory. The 1793 law enforced Article IV, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution in authorizing any federal district judge or circuit court judge, or any state magistrate, to decide finally and without a jury trial the status of an alleged fugitive slave.

The measure met with strong opposition in the Northern states, some of which enacted personal-liberty laws to hamper the execution of the federal law these laws provided that fugitives who appealed an original decision against them were entitled to a jury trial. As early as 1810 individual dissatisfaction with the law of 1793 had taken the form of systematic assistance rendered to Black slaves escaping from the South to New England or Canada—via the Underground Railroad.

The demand from the South for more effective legislation resulted in enactment of a second Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Under this law fugitives could not testify on their own behalf, nor were they permitted a trial by jury. Heavy penalties were imposed upon federal marshals who refused to enforce the law or from whom a fugitive escaped penalties were also imposed on individuals who helped slaves to escape. Finally, under the 1850 act, special commissioners were to have concurrent jurisdiction with the U.S. courts in enforcing the law. The severity of the 1850 measure led to abuses and defeated its purpose. The number of abolitionists increased, the operations of the Underground Railroad became more efficient, and new personal-liberty laws were enacted in many Northern states. These state laws were among the grievances officially referred to by South Carolina in December 1860 as justification for its secession from the Union. Attempts to carry into effect the law of 1850 aroused much bitterness and probably had as much to do with inciting sectional hostility as did the controversy over slavery in the territories.

For some time during the American Civil War, the Fugitive Slave Acts were considered to still hold in the case of Blacks fleeing from masters in border states that were loyal to the Union government. It was not until June 28, 1864, that the acts were repealed.


Effect of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

The second Fugitive Slave Law was a major factor in bringing the overthrow of slavery. It drew many new supporters to the cause of abolition and led to the Civil War.

Its provisions placed the handling of fugitive slave cases solely under federal jurisdiction, and like the first law passed in 1793 denied alleged fugitive slaves the right to a trial by jury and the right to testify on their own behalf. All that was required for the arrest of an alleged fugitive slave was identification by two witnesses who confirmed under oath that the individual was indeed a fugitive from slavery. It punished those aiding fugitive slaves with a fine of $1,000, double the first law,and six months in jail for each offense. Adding force was a $1,000 fine imposed on federal marshals, who failed to follow an order to arrest a fugitive slave, and liability for the value of any slave who escaped from them. It also encouraged a prejudicial review by judges, paying them $10 for every case in which a fugitive slave was remanded to the claimant and $5 for those in which the claimant was denied.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 Turned Every Citizen Into a Slave Catcher

But most intolerable to northerners was that it required citizens, if called upon by authorities, to assist in the capture of a fugitive slave or face a penalty similar to the one imposed on those caught aiding a fugitive slave–making everyone a slavecatcher by law.

It frightened not only fugitive slaves who had settled in the North but also free blacks who feared the law’s disregard for the rights of the accused would increase the activity of kidnappers. “It is impossible to describe the anguish, terror and despair which fill the minds of our colored fellow-citizens,” William Lloyd Garrison wrote in The Liberator.

Fugitive slaves especially were in such haste that they left behind many of their worldly possessions. They had good reason, considering the increased activities of kidnappers, like the attempt in Providence, R.I. to kidnap Henry “Box” Brown, the famed fugitive slave who had shipped himself to freedom through the mail in a box and shortly after took a boat to England. Both free and fugitive made a hasty pilgrimage to Canada, including Frederick Douglass, Jermain Loguen, and Harriet Tubman.

Thousands of Blacks in the North Fled to Canada

Reports of the exodus of blacks were widespread. The Buffalo Republic stated that “a party of 51 colored men, women, and children from Pittsburgh under the command of B.G. Sampson . . . crossed the Ferry at Black Rock into Canada. They were all armed `to the teeth,’ and on their way to Toronto . . . . It is also stated that 1500 have already organized and are on their way to Canada from the States . . .”

In Toronto, a correspondent wrote: “Indeed it is impossible to say to what extent this emigration may not be carried, as but few negroes in the free States will be secure from the meshes of the new law, which is so framed that by a little hard swearing a planter may successfully claim almost any negro as his property . . .”

A Utica dispatch reported: “Sixteen fugitive slaves on a boat for Canada, passed through this city yesterday. They were well armed and determined to fight to the last”

One of the more horrible results of the law took place in Syracuse. A fugitive slave, his wife, and infant child were riding a canal boat. After being told in jest that his master was about to board the boat to apprehend him, the fugitive slave cut his throat, then jumped off the boat with his wife and child, who drowned.

Some groups left en masse, like black congregations in Buffalo, Rochester, and Detroit, where 130, 112, and 84 members respectively of a single Baptist church in each city fled in fear, many leaving their belongings behind.

Blacks in the North Armed Themselves Against Slave Catchers

Those who did not leave armed themselves in preparation for resistance. Gerrit Smith wrote a message for fugitive slaves in the North to slaves in the South that was read publicly at a Convention in Cazenovia three weeks before the passage of the second Fugitive Slave Law: “We cannot furnish you with weapons,” it read in part. “Some of us are not inclined to carry arms, but if you can get them, take them, and before you go back with bondage, use them if you are obliged to take life—the slaveholders would not hesitate to kill you, rather than not take you back into bondage.”

In New York City, more than 1,500 protesters filled the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church to hear William P. Powell denounce the law and hear others vow to fight to the death to remain free.

“My colored brethren, if you have not swords, I say to you, sell your garments and buy one,” said John Jacobs, a fugitive slave from South Carolina. “They said they cannot take us back to the South but I say under the present law, they can and now I say unto you, let them take only your dead bodies.”

More reports of blacks in arms came from the Green Mountain Freeman, referring to Oswego, NY, and Springfield, MA. In the latter city, where about 50 fugitive slaves resided, thousands gathered at a town hall meeting to discuss the suspected presence of slave catchers.

In the three months after the passage of the law, an estimated 3,000 American blacks fled to Canada. It was only the beginning of a mass exodus that continued throughout 1851 and continue steadily thereafter up through the Civil War.


Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Act, first passed by the federal government 4 February 1793, gave slaveholders the right to recover escaped enslaved persons. While federal authorities could execute the Act, states were not compelled to enforce it. Many Northern states disregarded the law. Abolitionists in the North circumvented the law through the operation of the Underground Railroad. Some states implemented Personal Liberty Laws to hamper enforcement and gave fugitives the right of trial by jury to appeal decisions ruled against them. In some states, fugitives on trial received legal representation. The new 1850 bill strengthened the enforcement measures of the 1793 version of the Fugitive Slave Act to appease Southern slaveholders who were threatening to secede from the United States in order to protect their interest in enslavement. The Act allowed for the pursuit and capture of enslaved persons anywhere in the United States, including in the Northern states where enslavement had been abolished.

The Act made it illegal for individuals to aid escaping slaves with food, shelter, money or any other forms of assistance at a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. Anyone who obstructed federal agents or deputized citizens from recovering fugitives could also be charged. The federal law required that all citizens assist slave owners in capturing their runaway slaves.

Alleged fugitives were denied the right to defend their case with a jury trial. Special federal commissioners were appointed to handle cases. The Act made more federal agents available for enforcement, and agents were compelled to arrest suspected runaway slaves or face a $1,000 fine. To encourage agents to enforce the law, they were entitled to a recovery fee, influencing many to abduct, by any means, Black persons (free or otherwise) and sell them to slave traders or slaveholders. Free Blacks were in jeopardy of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South without recourse. As a result, many freedom-seekers risked their lives in pursuit of freedom in Canada, where enslavement had been abolished with the 1834 Slavery Abolition Act.

Impact

Between 1850 and 1860, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 African Americans settled in Canada, increasing the Black population to about 60,000. Many escapees made the dangerous journey on their own, while others received assistance from the Underground Railroad.

Several prominent cases filed under the Fugitive Slave Act ended in Canada. Anthony Burns, a fugitive from Virginia living in Boston, Massachusetts, was arrested and convicted under the Fugitive Slave Act in May 1854. He was sentenced to return to his master in Virginia — a ruling that incited protest among Black and white abolitionists in the city. Following his return to Virginia, he was sold to another slave holder in North Carolina. But within a year, his freedom was purchased with money raised by a Black church he attended in Boston. Burns moved to Ohio and attended Oberlin College, and in 1861 he relocated to St. Catharines, Canada West, where he served as minister for Zion Baptist Church until his death in 1862. Burns was the last person to be tried under the Fugitive Slave Act in Massachusetts.

Shadrach Minkins also escaped enslavement in Virginia and reached Boston in 1850. He was held under the Fugitive Slave Act after federal agents posed as customers at the coffee shop where he was employed and arrested him 15 February 1851. At his trial, Black and white abolitionists of the Boston Vigilance Committee forcibly removed Minkins from the court house and moved him to Montréal by way of the Underground Railroad.

In 1852, a freedom-seeker named Joshua Glover found asylum in Racine, Wisconsin, but was soon tracked down by his owner. While he was detained, a group of abolitionists stormed the jailhouse and helped Glover escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad. He settled in the Toronto area after finding employment with Thomas and William Montgomery in the village of Lambton Mills in York Township (Etobicoke).

Building Communities in Canada West

Black communities developed in Niagara Falls, Buxton, Chatham, Owen Sound, Windsor, Sandwich (now part of Windsor), Hamilton, London and Toronto as well as in other regions of British North America such as New Brunswick and Québec. All of these locations were terminals on the Underground Railroad.

Many African American immigrants wanted to live close to one another for support and for security against slave catchers. The Chatham Vigilance Committee was formed by concerned Black residents in order to protect fugitives from being returned to enslavement in the United States. The Fugitive Slave Act resulted in several illegal attempts to kidnap refugees in Canada and return them to former owners in Southern states. As reported by Mary Ann Shadd Cary in The Provincial Freeman, in September 1858, over 100 armed Black men and women rescued a teenage boy named Sylvanus Demarest when a man who claimed to be his owner put him on a train to take him to the US. They were spotted in London, Canada West, by Elijah Leonard, the former mayor of the town, who asked a Black porter to send a telegraph message ahead to Chatham so that members of the Vigilance Committee could intervene. Demarest was saved. He lived with the Shadd family for a short time before moving to Windsor.

Legacy

The Fugitive Slave Act sparked the largest migration wave of African Americans into Canada in the 19th century. The self-emancipated men and women who settled in Canada continued to fight against enslavement in the US after their successful flight, and engaged in various abolitionist activities. Many assisted incoming escapees by providing them with food, shelter, clothing and employment. Recently liberated Blacks formed and joined benevolent organizations and anti-slavery societies. Some settlers went on missions across the border to help rescue freedom-seekers and bring them to Canada.

Two anti-slavery newspapers were published in Canada West. Abolitionist Henry Bibb, once enslaved in Kentucky, founded the Voice of the Fugitive in Sandwich (now a suburb of Windsor) in 1851, Canada’s first Black newspaper. The Provincial Freeman was founded in Windsor in 1853 by Samuel Ringgold Ward, another fugitive turned abolitionist, alongside Mary Ann Shadd who took over the editorial role following year. Both newspapers reported on safe arrivals via the Underground Railroad, reported on what was happening in the US in regards to enslavement, and notified the community about potential threats to their freedom. The Black press was also used to mobilize the public against the practice of enslavement and encouraged political activism and community-building initiatives.

In September 1851, members of Canada West’s Black community organized the North American Convention of Coloured People at St. Lawrence Hall. Fifty-three delegates from the United States, England and Canada gathered in Toronto because it was determined that it would be the safest location for a large meeting where the main discussions were the abolition of African American enslavement, improving the quality of life for Blacks in North America, and encouraging enslaved people to run away. The three day convention was chaired by Henry Bibb, J. J. Fisher, Thomas Smallwood and Josiah Henson, all freedom-seekers living in Canada West. The meeting closed with the decision that the best place for people of African descent (those wishing to flee enslavement, as well as free Blacks) to live in North America was Canada, because of its security and promises of freedom and opportunity.


Contents

The New England Articles of Confederation of 1643 contained a clause that provided for the forced re-enslavement of free blacks. However, this only referred to the confederation of colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven, and was unrelated to the Articles of Confederation of the United States formed after the Declaration of Independence. Both Africans and Native Americans were enslaved in New England beginning in the 18th century. [4] The Articles for the New England Confederation provided for the forced re-enslavement of free people in Section 8:

It is also agreed that if any servant run away from his master into any other of these confederated Jurisdictions, that in such case, upon the certificate of one magistrate in the Jurisdiction out of which the said servant fled, or upon other due proof the said servant shall be delivered, either to his master, or any other that pursues and brings such certificate or proof. [5]

As the colonies expanded with waves of settlers pushing eastward, slavery went along with them, prompting further legislation of a similar nature. [6] Serious attempts at formulating a uniform policy for the forced re-enslavement of free people began under the Articles of Confederation of the United States in 1785. [7]

There were two attempts at implementing a fugitive slave law in the Congress of the Confederation in order to provide slave-owners who enslaved free people with a way of forcing enslavement onto free people.

The Ordinance of 1784 was drafted by a Congressional committee headed by Thomas Jefferson, and its provisions applied to all United States territory west of the original 13 states. The original version was read to Congress on March 1, 1784, and it contained a clause stating: [8]

That after the year 1800 of the Christian Era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.

This was removed prior to final enactment of the ordinance on 23 April 1784. However, the issue did not die there, and on 6 April 1785 Rufus King introduced a resolution to re-implement the slavery prohibition in the 1784 ordinance, containing a freedom seeker provision in the hope that this would reduce opposition to the objective of the resolution. The resolution contained the phrase: [9]

Provided always, that upon the escape of any person into any of the states described in the said resolve of Congress of the 23d day of April, 1784, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the thirteen original states, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and carried back to the person claiming his labor or service as aforesaid, this resolve notwithstanding.

The unsuccessful resolution was the first attempt to include a freedom seeker provision in U.S. legislation.

While the original 1784 ordinance applied to all U.S. territory that was not a part of any existing state (and thus, to all future states), the 1787 ordinance applied only to the Northwest Territory.

Congress made a further attempt to address the concerns of people who wanted to re-enslave free people in 1787 by passing the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. [10] The law appeared to outlaw enslavement, which would have reduced the votes of enslaving states in Congress, but southern representatives were concerned with economic competition from potential holders of enslaved people in the new territory, and the effects that would have on the prices of staple crops such as tobacco. They correctly predicted that enslavement would be permitted south of the Ohio River under the Southwest Ordinance of 1790, and therefore did not view this as a threat to enslavement. [11] In terms of the actual law, it did not ban enslavement in practice, and it continued almost until the start of the Civil War. [12]

King's phrasing from the 1785 attempt was incorporated in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 when it was enacted on 13 July 1787. [8] Article 6 has the provision for freedom seekers:

Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid. [13]

When Congress created "An Act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters", or more commonly known as the Fugitive Slave Act, they were responding to slave owners' need to protect their property rights, as written into the 1787 Constitution. Article IV of the Constitution required the federal government to go after runaway slaves. [14] The 1793 Fugitive Slave Act was the mechanism by which the government did that, and it was only at this point the government could pursue runaway slaves in any state or territory, and ensure slave owners of their property rights. [15]

Section 3 is the part that deals with fugitive or runaway slaves, and reads in part:

SEC. 3. . That when a person held to labor in any of the United States, or of the Territories on the Northwest or South of the river Ohio . shall escape into any other part of the said States or Territory, the person to whom such labor or service may be due . is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such fugitive from labor . and upon proof . before any Judge . it shall be the duty of such Judge . [to remove] the said fugitive from labor to the State or Territory from which he or she fled.

Section 4 makes assisting runaways and fugitives a crime and outlines the punishment for those who assisted runaway slaves:

SEC. 4. . That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or hinder such claimant . shall . forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars. [16]

In the early 19th century, personal liberty laws were passed to hamper officials in the execution of the law, but this was mostly after the abolition of the Slave Trade, as there had been very little support for abolition prior Indiana in 1824 and Connecticut in 1828 provided jury trial for fugitives who appealed from an original decision against them. In 1840, New York and Vermont extended the right of trial by jury to fugitives and provided them with attorneys. As early as the first decade of the 19th century, individual dissatisfaction with the law of 1793 had taken the form of systematic assistance rendered to African Americans escaping from the South to Canada or New England: the so-called Underground Railroad.

The decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842 (16 Peters 539)—that state authorities could not be forced to act in fugitive slave cases, but that national authorities must carry out the national law—was followed by legislation in Massachusetts (1843), Vermont (1843), Pennsylvania (1847) and Rhode Island (1848), forbidding state officials from aiding in enforcing the law and refusing the use of state jails for fugitive slaves.

The demand from the South for more effective Federal legislation was voiced in the second fugitive slave law, drafted by Senator James Murray Mason of Virginia, grandson of George Mason, and enacted on September 18, 1850, as a part of the Compromise of 1850. Special commissioners were to have concurrent jurisdiction with the U.S. circuit and district courts and the inferior courts of territories in enforcing the law fugitives could not testify in their own behalf no trial by jury was provided.

Penalties were imposed upon marshals who refused to enforce the law or from whom a fugitive should escape, and upon individuals who aided black people to escape the marshal might raise a posse comitatus a fee of $10 ($311 in today's dollars) [17] was paid to the commissioner when his decision favored the claimant, only $5 ($156 in today's dollars) [17] when it favored the fugitive. The supposed justification for the disparity in compensation was that, if the decision were in favor of the claimant, additional effort on the part of the commissioner would be required in order to fill out the paperwork actually remanding the slave back to the South. [18] Both the fact of the escape and the identity of the fugitive were determined on purely ex parte testimony. If a slave was brought in and returned to the master, the person who brought in the slave would receive the sum of $10 ($311 in today's dollars) [17] per slave.

The severity of this measure led to gross abuses and defeated its purpose the number of abolitionists increased, the operations of the Underground Railroad became more efficient, and new personal liberty laws were enacted in Vermont (1850), Connecticut (1854), Rhode Island (1854), Massachusetts (1855), Michigan (1855), Maine (1855 and 1857), Kansas (1858) and Wisconsin (1858). The personal liberty laws forbade justices and judges to take cognizance of claims, extended habeas corpus and the privilege of jury trial to fugitives, and punished false testimony severely. In 1854, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin went so far as to declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. [19]

These state laws were one of the grievances that South Carolina would later use to justify its secession from the Union. Attempts to carry into effect the law of 1850 aroused much bitterness. [ citation needed ] The arrests of Thomas Sims and of Shadrach Minkins in Boston in 1851 of Jerry M. Henry, in Syracuse, New York, in the same year of Anthony Burns in 1854, in Boston and of the two Garner families in 1856, in Cincinnati, with other cases arising under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, probably had as much to do with bringing on the Civil War as did the controversy over slavery in the Territories. [ citation needed ]

With the beginning of the Civil War, the legal status of the slave was changed by his masters being in arms. Benjamin Franklin Butler, in May 1861, declared black slaves are contraband of war. The Confiscation Act of 1861 was passed in August 1861, and discharged from service or labor any slave employed in aiding or promoting any insurrection against the government of the United States.

By the congressional Act Prohibiting the Return of Slaves of March 13, 1862, any slave of a disloyal master who was in territory occupied by Northern troops was declared ipso facto free. But for some time the Fugitive Slave Law was considered still to hold in the case of fugitives from masters in the border states who were loyal to the Union government, and it was not until June 28, 1864, that the Act of 1850 was fully repealed. [20]


Watch the video: Sound Smart: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. History (January 2022).