Millard Fillmore, Portrait, Brady

Signed into law by President Millard Fillmore on September 18, 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was part of the Compromise of 1850 that established more stringent regulations to help ensure the return of runaway slaves. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Facts

1850

Key facts about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

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Definition of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a law passed by Congress on September 18, 1850, and required Federal marshalls and other government officials to apprehend fugitive slaves and return them to their owners.

Interesting Facts About the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 expanded the federal government to track down and apprehend fugitive slaves in the North.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made any Federal marshal or another official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave subject to a fine of $1,000.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required law-enforcement officials to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 denied suspected runaway slaves of the right to jury trials.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 denied suspected runaway slaves of the right to testify on their or her own behalf.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stipulated that persons aiding runaway slaves by providing food or shelter were subject to six months’ imprisonment and $1,000 fines.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 created a force of federal commissioners empowered to pursue fugitive slaves in any state and return them to their owners.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 empowered federal commissioners to issue warrants, depose witnesses, and employ federal marshals to arrest and imprison suspected runaways within the jurisdictions of the individual states.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 empowered federal commissioners to imposes fines of $1,000 on federal marshals or local officials who did not cooperate in the pursuit or arrest alleged runaways.
  • Federal commissioners created by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 received ten dollars, paid by the plaintiffs (slave owners), for each suspect sent back into bondage and half of that amount for each suspect set free.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 empowered the federal government to deputize citizens, even against their will, and force them to take part in posses or other groups to seize fugitive slaves.
  • Historians estimate that eighty percent of accused runaways brought before federal commissioners under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 were sent into bondage.
  • Many Northerners disapproved of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 because the terms of the law were much harsher and more unfair to suspected runaway slaves.
  • Many Northerners disapproved of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 because the terms of the law impinged upon their own freedom by requiring them to personally participate in the pursuit and apprehension of suspected runaways.
  • Many Northerners disapproved of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 because it circumvented state and local jurisdiction and expanded the power of the federal government.
  • In a strange reversal of roles, Southern apostles of states’ rights championed the extension of federal jurisdiction to protect their property rights north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Simultaneously, many Northern promoters of federal authority to limit or even abolish slavery found the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 insidious and threatening to home rule.
  • Rather than reduce sectional division over the issue of slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 fanned the flames of civil war in the United States.

History of Slavery Laws in America

This is a brief history of slavery laws in America, from the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Draft of the Declaration of Independence

In Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, he criticized King George III for continuing the slave trade. Jefferson wrote the King was, “Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.” This section was removed from the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

Northwest Ordinance

On July 13, 1787, the Confederation Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which said “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory. . . ” The ordinance established the Ohio River as the border separating free and slave states between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.

Fugitive Slave Act of 1793

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was enacted by Congress in reaction to a dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia over the kidnapping of a black man in Pennsylvania by three Virginians. The act 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.

Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise comprised legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 1820 that attempted to resolve sectional disputes over the extension of slavery in western territories of the United States.

Wilmot Proviso

Three months after the United States declared war on Mexico, President James K. Polk submitted a request to Congress to appropriate $2,000,000 to negotiate the end of the war by purchasing from Mexico the land he coveted. On August 8, 1846, Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot introduced an amendment to Polk’s request that forbid slavery or indentured servitude in the new territory, except as a punishment for crime. However, the Proviso was never passed by Congress.

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Crittenden Compromise

Proposed by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden on December 18, 1860, the Crittenden Compromise, also known as the Crittenden Plan, was an unsuccessful eleventh-hour attempt to save the Union and avoid the American Civil War, but the agreement was never adopted by the Senate.

Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a collection of Congressional legislation proposed by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay to resolve sectional issues in the United States regarding slavery after the Mexican-American War.

Confiscation Act of 1861

Enacted by Congress and signed by President Lincoln on August 6, the Confiscation Act of 1861 declared fugitive slaves used or employed in aiding, abetting, or promoting war against the United States to be contraband and it stripped the proprietors of such slaves of their rights to ownership.

Confiscation Act of 1862

Enacted by Congress and signed by President Lincoln on July 16, the Confiscation Act of 1862 expanded the scope of the Confiscation Act of 1861 and inched the United States towards universal emancipation and the abolition of slavery.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which redefined the purpose of the Civil War. It made the purpose of the war object of the conflict as much about freeing the slaves as it was about restoring the Union.

Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves that were living in areas of the United States that were considered to be in rebellion.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Facts
  • Coverage 1850
  • Author
  • Keywords Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Millard Fillmore, Compromise of 1850
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 9, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 13, 2022
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