Fugitive Slave Law Definition

Learn about the controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, its provisions, resistance, and consequences. Discover the legacy of this divisive legislation.


The Fugitive Slave Law was a controversial piece of legislation passed in the United States in 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. It required that escaped slaves be returned to their owners, even if they were in a free state. This law was met with widespread resistance and played a significant role in the escalating tensions between the North and South leading up to the Civil War.


The Fugitive Slave Law was meant to enforce the Fugitive Slave Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves to their owners. However, it was widely seen as a tool to protect the institution of slavery and enforce the power of slaveholders.


The Fugitive Slave Law allowed slave owners to capture escaped slaves in any state or territory and required citizens to assist in their capture. It also denied fugitive slaves the right to a jury trial or the ability to testify on their own behalf.


The Fugitive Slave Law was met with resistance by abolitionists, free blacks, and sympathetic Northerners who formed networks to help fugitive slaves escape to Canada or other safe havens. This defiance of the law became known as the Underground Railroad.


The Fugitive Slave Law further divided the country along sectional lines and intensified the debate over slavery. It led to riots, kidnappings, and increased tensions between the North and South.


The Fugitive Slave Law was repealed in 1864, but its legacy lived on in the struggle for civil rights and equality. It serves as a reminder of the deep roots of racism and oppression in American history.

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