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The fugitive slave act and its consequences

The hope that the Compromise of 1850 would resolve the sectional crisis proved short-lived when the Fugitive Slave Act turned into a major source of conflict. The federal law imposed heavy fines and prison sentences on northerners and midwesterners who aided runaway slaves or refused to join posses to catch fugitives. Many northerners felt the law forced them to act as slave-catchers against their will.

The law also established a new group of federal commissioners who would decide the fate of fugitives brought before them. In some instances, slave-catchers even brought in free northern blacks, prompting abolitionist societies to step up their efforts to prevent kidnappings ( [link] ). The commissioners had a financial incentive to send fugitives and free blacks to the slaveholding South, since they received ten dollars for every African American sent to the South and only five if they decided the person who came before them was actually free. The commissioners used no juries, and the alleged runaways could not testify in their own defense.

The text of a poster reads “CAUTION!! COLORED PEOPLE OF BOSTON, ONE AND ALL, You are hereby respectfully CAUTIONED and advised, to avoid conversing with the Watchmen and Police Officers of Boston, For since the recent ORDER OF THE MAYOR AND ALDERMEN, they are empowered to act as KIDNAPPERS AND Slave Catchers, And they have already been actually employed in KIDNAPPING, CATCHING, AND KEEPING SLAVES. Therefore, if you value your LIBERTY, and the Welfare of the Fugitives among you, Shun them in every possible manner, as so many HOUNDS on the track of the most unfortunate of your race. Keep a Sharp Look Out for KIDNAPPERS, and have TOP EYE open. APRIL 24, 1851.”
This 1851 poster, written by Boston abolitionist Theodore Parker, warned that any black person, free or slave, risked kidnapping by slave-catchers.

The operation of the law further alarmed northerners and confirmed for many the existence of a “Slave Power” —that is, a minority of elite slaveholders who wielded a disproportionate amount of power over the federal government, shaping domestic and foreign policies to suit their interests. Despite southerners’ repeated insistence on states’ rights, the Fugitive Slave Act showed that slaveholders were willing to use the power of the federal government to bend people in other states to their will. While rejecting the use of federal power to restrict the expansion of slavery, proslavery southerners turned to the federal government to protect and promote the institution of slavery.

The actual number of runaway slaves who were not captured within a year of escaping remained very low, perhaps no more than one thousand per year in the early 1850s. Most stayed in the South, hiding in plain sight among free blacks in urban areas. Nonetheless, southerners feared the influence of a vast Underground Railroad    : the network of northern whites and free blacks who sympathized with runaway slaves and provided safe houses and safe passage from the South. Quakers, who had long been troubled by slavery, were especially active in this network. It is unclear how many slaves escaped through the Underground Railroad, but historians believe that between 50,000 and 100,000 slaves used the network in their bids for freedom. Meanwhile, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act greatly increased the perils of being captured. For many thousands of fugitives, escaping the United States completely by going to southern Ontario, Canada, where slavery had been abolished, offered the best chance of a better life beyond the reach of slaveholders.

Harriet Tubman, one of the thousands of slaves who made their escape through the Underground Railroad, distinguished herself for her efforts in helping other enslaved men and women escape. Born a slave in Maryland around 1822, Tubman, who suffered greatly under slavery but found solace in Christianity, made her escape in the late 1840s. She returned to the South more than a dozen times to lead other slaves, including her family and friends, along the Underground Railroad to freedom.

Questions & Answers

hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
Tom
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
Sanusi
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
Sanusi
which culture developed the writting system in the western hemisphere?
cierra Reply
the phoenicians
Victor
Treaty of Greenville
The Reply
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QuizOver Reply
Columbus didn't discover ish. He stole America from the Natives
LovingN Reply
Who was Nat Turner? What was the cause and impact of the Nat Turner Rebellion?
LovingN
which culture developed the only writing systems in the western hemisphere
rose Reply
economic causes of American civil war
Samten Reply
do you mean the major causes of American civil war
CHEGWE
yes
Samten
idealistic birth of industries in great britain
Rinchen Reply
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Jessica Reply
what year was America found
Adaregba Reply
i think America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in the year 1492
Samten
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CHEGWE
but, we're was the name (America gotten from
CHEGWE
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Samten
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Samten
ok
CHEGWE
how did texas settlers view of mexico and its people contribute to the history of texas in the 1830s
Princess Reply
They felt that they had to get their independence and be annexed to the U.S.
tapha
Which of the following does NOT represent an outcome of Reconstruction that contributed to the building of southern white resentment?
Marcela Reply
Which of the following best represents the business strategy of J. Pierpont Morgan in building his economic standing in the American capitalist system?
Marcela
Where in the colonies did the British military concentrate their attacks?
Datavious Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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