Portrait of George Washington

Signed into law by President George Washington on February 12, 1793, The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 empowered local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who assisted in their flights to freedom. [Wikimedia Commons]

Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 Facts

1793

Key facts about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.

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  • Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 in reaction to a dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia over the kidnapping of a black man in Pennsylvania by three Virginians.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 consisted of four sections, two of which dealt with the interstate extradition of accused criminals, and two of which addressed the interstate disposition of fugitive slaves.
  • Section 3 of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 enabled slave owners or their agents to cross state lines to capture runaway slaves, take them before a federal or local magistrate, and upon presenting proof of ownership, receive authorization to return the fugitive to slavery. The law provided alleged fugitive slaves with no protection of habeas corpus, no right to trial by jury, and no right to testify on their own behalf. 
  • Section 4 of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made it a federal crime to aid fugitive slaves and established a penalty of $500 for doing so.
  • The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 put real teeth into the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause, but it also opened the door to potential abuses by unscrupulous slave owners and their agents.
  • Fearing that Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 encouraged slave owners to capture free blacks and represent them as runaway slaves, some northern states enacted personal liberty laws that gave suspected fugitives judicial rights that the federal law denied them.
  • In 1842, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the preeminence of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 when it declared a Pennsylvania statute unconstitutional in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania.
  • In 1850, Congress replaced the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 with an even harsher law as part of the Compromise of 1850.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 Facts
  • Coverage 1793
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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