Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 Primary Document — Simplified and Explained

February 12, 1793

Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 primary document, including the full text and simple explanations of each section of the law that went into effect on February 12, 1793.

George Washington, Portrait, Stuart

President George Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act into law on February 12, 1793. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1794 Full Text and Explanation of the Primary Source

Please note that section headings have been added to the original text of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. These section headings have been added to aid the understanding of the law, each section, and the provisions of each section. Each section of the act is followed by a simple explanation.

Preamble

Be it enacted, &c., That, whenever the Executive authority of any State in the Union, or of
either of the Territories Northwest or South of the river Ohio, shall demand any person as a
fugitive from justice, of the Executive authority of any such State or Territory to which such
person shall have fled, and shall moreover produce the copy of an indictment found, or an
affidavit made before a magistrate of any State or Territory as aforesaid, charging the person so
demanded with having committed treason, felony, or other crime, certified as authentic by the
Governor or Chief Magistrate of the State or Territory from whence the person so charged fled,
it shall be the duty of the executive authority of the State or Territory to which such person
shall have fled, to cause him or her arrest to be given to the Executive authority making such
demand, or to the agent when he shall appear; but, if no such agent shall appear within six
months from the time of the arrest, the prisoner may be discharged: and all costs or expenses
incurred in the apprehending, securing, and transmitting such fugitive to the State or Territory
making such demand, shall be paid by such State or Territory.

Simple Explanation of the Preamble

When a state or territory’s Executive authority asks for a person accused of a crime, that person must be given up.

The requesting authority must provide evidence like an indictment or an affidavit from the state where the person fled, showing the charges.

The evidence must be verified by the Governor or Chief Magistrate of the state where the person fled.

The state or territory where the person fled must arrest them and hand them over if the demand is valid.

If no agent comes within six months, the arrested person can be released.

The state or territory making the request is responsible for all the costs of catching and sending back the fugitive.

This law applies to any state in the Union or the Northwest or South Territories of the river Ohio.

The crimes mentioned include treason, felony, or other offenses.

The evidence must be proven authentic by the Governor or Chief Magistrate of the state where the charges were made.

The arresting state or territory must follow the request, and if no agent comes, they can let the arrested person go.

Section 2

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That any agent appointed as aforesaid, who shall receive the
fugitive into his custody, shall be empowered to transport him or her to the State or Territory
from which he or she shall have fled. And if any person or persons shall, by force, set at liberty,
or rescue the fugitive from such agent while transporting, as aforesaid, the person or persons
so offending shall, on conviction, be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars, and be
imprisoned not exceeding one year.

Simple Explanation of Section 2

An agent appointed to catch the fugitive has the authority to take them back to the state or territory they fled from.

If anyone forcibly frees or rescues the fugitive from the agent while they’re being transported, they can be punished.

If convicted, the offender(s) can be fined up to $500 and imprisoned for no more than one year.

Section 3

SEC. 3. And be it also enacted, That when a person held to labor in any of the United States, or
in either of the Territories on the Northwest or South of the river Ohio, under the laws thereof,
shall escape into any other part of the said States or Territory, the person to whom such labor
or service may be due, his agent or attorney, is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such
fugitive from labor, and to take him or her before any Judge of the Circuit or District Courts of
the United States, residing or being within the State, or before any magistrate of a county, city,
or town corporate, wherein such seizure or arrest shall be made, and upon proof to the
satisfaction of such Judge or magistrate, either by oral testimony or affidavit taken before and
certified by a magistrate of any such State or Territory, that the person so seized or arrested,
doth, under the laws of the State or Territory from which he or she fled, owe service or labor to
the person claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such Judge or magistrate to give a
certificate thereof to such claimant, his agent, or attorney, which shall be sufficient warrant for
removing the said fugitive from labor to the State or Territory from which he or she fled.

Simple Explanation of Section 3

If a person who is legally bound to work in a United States state or certain territories escapes to another part of the same country, the person who is owed their labor can capture them.

The labor owner or their representative can take the escapee to a federal judge in the same state or to a local magistrate in the area where the capture happened.

If the judge or magistrate is convinced by proof, either through spoken testimony or written statements confirmed by a local magistrate from the state or territory where the escapee fled, that the person owes labor to the claimant, a certificate is given.

This certificate acts as permission to move the escapee back to the state or territory they fled from, where their labor is owed.

Section 4

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or
hinder such claimant, his agent, or attorney, in so seizing or arresting such fugitive from labor,
or shall rescue such fugitive from such claimant, his agent or attorney, when so arrested
pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall harbor or conceal such person
after notice that he or she was a fugitive from labor, as aforesaid, shall, for either of the said
offences, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars. Which penalty may be recovered by
and for the benefit of such claimant, by action of debt, in any Court proper to try the same,
saving moreover to the person claiming such labor or service his right of action for or on
account of the said injuries, or either of them.

Section 4 Simple Explanation

Intentionally obstructing or preventing the person who is owed labor, their agent, or an attorney from capturing the fugitive is against the law.

Rescuing the fugitive from the claimant, their agent, or attorney after being legally arrested under the rules stated earlier is also prohibited.

Similarly, hiding or sheltering the fugitive after receiving notice that they escaped from labor is not allowed.

For committing any of these offenses, a person can be fined $500.

The claimant can go to court to recover this penalty, and the money goes to them.

The person owed labor also retains the right to sue for the harm caused by these actions.

Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 APUSH Simple Definition

The simple definition of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 for the AP US History exam is a law passed by the United States Congress aimed at addressing the issue of escaped slaves and fugitives from the law. The provisions of the law mandated the return of runaway slaves to their owners upon capture, regardless of whether they had fled to a state that did not permit slavery.

American History Central APUSH Resources Related to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 Primary Document — Simplified and Explained
  • Date February 12, 1793
  • Author
  • Keywords Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 14, 2023

Taxonomies