fugitive slave laws


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fugitive slave laws,

in U.S. history, the federal acts of 1793 and 1850 providing for the return between states of escaped black slaves. Similar laws existing in both North and South in colonial days applied also to white indentured servants and to Native American slaves. As slavery was abolished in the Northern states, the 1793 law was loosely enforced, to the great irritation of the South, and as abolitionist sentiment developed, organized efforts to circumvent the law took form in the Underground RailroadUnderground Railroad,
in U.S. history, loosely organized system for helping fugitive slaves escape to Canada or to areas of safety in free states. It was run by local groups of Northern abolitionists, both white and free blacks.
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. Many Northern states also passed personal-liberty laws that allowed fugitives a jury trial, and others passed laws forbidding state officials to help capture alleged fugitive slaves or to lodge them in state jails. As a concession to the South a second and more rigorous fugitive slave law was passed as part of the Compromise of 1850Compromise of 1850.
The annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican War (1848) aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of slavery into the
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. By it "all good citizens" were "commanded to aid and assist [federal marshals and their deputies] in the prompt and efficient execution of this law," and heavy penalties were imposed upon anyone who assisted slaves to escape from bondage. When apprehended, an alleged fugitive was taken before a federal court or commissioner. He was denied a jury trial and his testimony was not admitted, while the statement of the master claiming ownership, even though absent, was taken as the main evidence. The law was so weighted against the fugitives that many Northerners, formerly unconcerned, were now aroused to opposition. New personal-liberty laws contradicting the legislation of 1850 (and described, with some reason, by Southerners as equivalent to South Carolina's notorious ordinance of nullification) were passed in most of the Northern states. Abolitionists fearlessly defied the 1850 act, often mobbing federal officials in attempts to rescue fugitives. In Boston, for instance, the "good citizens," including some of the foremost Brahmins, stormed the federal courthouse, but failed to free the escaped Virginia slave Anthony Burns; moreover, it was thought expedient to have 1,100 soldiers guard him when he was marched aboard ship for his return to bondage. In Lancaster co., Pa., a riot broke out when a federal official ordered Quaker bystanders to help catch a runaway; the Quakers were prosecuted, but not convicted. Other notable fugitive-slave cases arose in Northern courts, and the trials further stirred up public opinion both North and South. The whole dispute, combined with the question of the extension of slavery into the territories, served to set the two sections at each other's throats. The actions of Northern states in nullifying the fugitive slave laws or rendering "useless any attempt to execute them" were cited (Dec. 24, 1860) by South Carolina as one cause for secession. Both acts were finally repealed by Congress on June 28, 1864.
References in periodicals archive ?
federal fugitive slave laws superseded state fugitive slave laws, (9)
Since the 1830s, African-American abolitionists in the North (with the backing of a few steadfast white abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison) formed a social underground, which protected runaway slaves or assisted them in crossing the border into Canada, where they could be safe from the operations of fugitive slave laws.
In 1850 Spooner published A Defence for Fugitive Slaves, Against the Acts of Congress on February 12, 1793 and September 18, 1850, where he argued that juries "are judges of the law, as well as the fact" and are therefore justified in nullifying federal fugitive slave laws.
Northern abolitionists sought to nullify the Constitution itself, albeit to stop a hideous injustice, in opposing the fugitive slave laws (as well as the unconstitutional federalization of those laws after the Compromise of 1850).
However, to evade Hugh Auld, who still held a legal claim on Douglass under the fugitive slave laws, Douglass traveled to England for a two-year speaking tour of the British Isles, raising anti-slavery sympathies.
Another related essay, surprisingly, offers a case study on the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850, and local opposition to those laws, to provide insight on current state-federal disputes.
Massachusetts adopted a "personal liberty" law in 1855 in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Laws of the United States.
Under the fugitive slave laws, if the Crafts were caught, they could be returned to the family in Georgia that still claimed them as their property.
Public protests against this nation's fugitive slave laws, which required the return of escaped slaves to their masters, helped galvanize abolitionist forces before the Civil War.
There are always conscientious people of deeply held religious conviction who, alas, on the basis of those convictions find themselves on the wrong side of history, such as those who hanged witches in the 17th century and embraced the fugitive slave laws in the 19th century; and those who, in our own time, find the support of custom, reason, and faith in their prejudices against Roman Catholics, Jews, and persons of other colors and ethnicities.
Specifically, the abolitionists' struggle against fugitive slave laws deepened their commitment to jury trial--a commitment that had existed in some form since colonial times.
Black Californians lived a perilous existence in the shadow of state and national fugitive slave laws.