Fugitive Slave Law

Kelsey Lints and Michael Mares

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Because the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was largely unenforced, Congress passed harsher measures and forced citizens to enforce the laws. The act raised the penalty of attempting to help/ helping a slave escape from merely a fine of $500 to a fine of $1000 and six months in jail. The act also denied blacks the right to a jury trial, and commissioners were put into place to control each case. These commissioners were paid more for returning suspected slaves than freeing them, which led many people to believe the law was biased. States passed new measures to bypass or nullify the law, and increased resistance sometimes led to riots. Abolitionists doubled their efforts in the Underground Railroad, and they helped many slaves escape to Canada. Because of widespread opposition in the North, the law was virtually unenforceable, and both the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 were repealed on June 28, 1864.


In the constitution, northern states had to return runaway slaves to their owners, which made slavery a national institution. Because of differing opinions on slavery and on the Fugitive Slave Law in the United States, the North and South were driven further apart. Any black - even free blacks - could be sent south because of a mere affidavit from anyone claiming to be the owner. The South supposedly believed in states' rights, but were willing to use federal power in order to preserve slavery.


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Eric Foner, “A Historian Explains the Significance of the Fugitive Slave Act,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 19, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1489.

Fugitive Slave Act. PBS Video. PBS, n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <http://video.pbs.org/video/2319483495/>.