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The fugitive slave laws were laws passed by the United States Congress in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of slaves who escaped from one state into another or into a public territory.

Contents

Pre-colonial & Colonial eras

Slavery in the 13 Colonies – 1770. Numbers show actual and estimated enslaved population by colony. Colors show enslaved population as a percentage of each colony's total population. Boundaries shown are based on 1860 state boundaries, not those of 1770 colonies.

The Articles of Confederation of the New England Confederation of 1643 contained a clause that provided for the return of fugitive slaves. However, this only referred to the confederation of colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven, and was unrelated to the Articles of Confederation of the United States formed after the Declaration of Independece. Both Africans and Native Americans were slaves in the New England colonies even in the 18th century[1]. The Articles for the New England Confederation provided for the return of slaves in Section 8:

"It is also agreed that if any servant run away from his master into any other of these confederated Jurisdictions, that in such case, upon the ceritficate of one magistrate in the Jurisdiction out of which the said servant fled, or upon other due proof; the said servant shall be delivered, either to his master, or any other that pursues and brings such certificate or proof."[2]

As the colonies grew and settlers expaneded into other areas, slavery continued in the English terrorities and in former Dutch territories like New Amsterdam, which became New York.

Serious attempts at formulating a uniform policy for the recapture of escaped slaves began under the Articles of Confederation of the United States in 1785, which was after the colonies had signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

1785 attempt

There were two attempts at implementing a fugitive slave law in the Congress of the Confederation in order to provide slave owners with a way of recapturing escaped slaves.

The Ordinance of 1784 was drafted by a Congressional committee headed by Thomas Jefferson, and its provisions applied to all United States territory west of the original 13 states. The original version was read to Congress on 1 March 1784, and it contained a clause stating:[3]

That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.
Rufus King's failed resolution to re-implement the slavery prohibition in the Ordinance of 1784.

This was removed prior to final enactment of the ordinance on 23 April 1784. However, the issue did not die there, and on 6 April 1785 Rufus King introduced a resolution to re-implement the slavery prohibition in the 1784 ordinance, containing a fugitive slave provision in the hope that this would reduce opposition to the objective of the resolution. The resolution contained the phrase:[4]

Provided always, that upon the escape of any person into any of the states described in the said resolve of Congress of the 23d day of April, 1784, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the thirteen original states, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and carried back to the person claiming his labor or service as aforesaid, this resolve notwithstanding.

The unsuccessful resolution was the first attempt to include a fugitive slave provision in U.S. legislation.

While the original 1784 ordinance applied to all U.S. territory that was not a part of any existing state (and thus, to all future states), the 1787 ordinance applied only to the Northwest Territory.

1787 statute

A further attempt to address the concerns of slave owners over runaway slaves was made in 1787. This succeeded and became part of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787[5]. The inclusion of the fugitive slave provision was an effort to reduce opposition to the bill by slave owning states, since no slavery would be allowed in the new area; this would reduce their voting power in Congress. However, southern representatives were more concerned with economic competition from potential slaveholders in the new territory, and the effects that would have on the prices of staple crops such as tobacco. They focused more on the economic issue because they correctly predicted that slavery would be permitted south of the Ohio River; they reached a compromise.[6]. Shortly afterwards, the Southwest Ordinance of 1790 guaranteed slavery south of the Ohio River, and their Congressional seats were not negatively affected[7].

The return of runaway slaves in this provision was only valid in that specific territory. It would not be until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793[8] that the federal government was required to assist in the capture and return of runaway slaves in all states, with specific rules on how to do so and fines and punishments for those that interfered with it[9].

King's phrasing from the 1785 attempt was incorporated in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and enacted 13 July 1787.[10]. The clause states in 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.[5]

Section 4 lists the procedures for recapturing a runaway slave, the punishments for interfering with the apprehension of a runaway:

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.[5]

1793 statute

The US Constitution of 1787 entered into force in 1789. Article 4, Section 2 stipulated that the Federal government had to provide for the return of fugutive (runaway) slaves:

"2. ...No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.(This clause superseded by Amendment XIII)"[11]

However, the Constitution is not self-fulfilling, and Congress had to enact specific legislation (laws) to enforce this law. Therefore, in in 1793, the Congress debated and passed the Fugutive Slave Act of 1793.[12].

Though commonly referred to as the Fugitive Slave Act, it was called "An Act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters"[8]. Furthermore, it affected fugitives from the law as well as runaway slaves, and both are addressed in separate sections of the law, with fugitives in sections 1 and 2 and slaves in sections 3 and 4.

It is notable because it was the first nationwide law dealing with runaway slaves under the 1787 Constitution. It was approved by Congress on February 12, 1793, and like Article Four of the Constitution, it did not contain the word slave; by its provisions any Federal district or circuit judge or any state magistrate was authorized to decide finally and without a jury trial the status of an alleged fugitive or slave.

The measure met with opposition in some Northern states. There was no real opposition in 1793 because the northern states conducted about 75% of the slave trade, and had a direct economic interest in slavery[13]. In the early 19th century, [Personal Liberty Law]]s were passed to hamper officials in the execution of the law; Indiana in 1824 and Connecticut in 1828 provided jury trial for fugitives who appealed from an original decision against them. In 1840, New York and Vermont extended the right of trial by jury to fugitives and provided them with attorneys. As early as the first decade of the 19th century, individual dissatisfaction with the law of 1793 had taken the form of systematic assistance rendered to African Americans escaping from the South to Canada or New England: the so-called Underground Railroad.

The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842 (16 Peters 539)—that state authorities could not be forced to act in fugitive slave cases, but that national authorities must carry out the national law—was followed by legislation in Massachusetts (1843), Vermont (1843), Pennsylvania (1847) and Rhode Island (1848), forbidding state officials from aiding in enforcing the law and refusing the use of state jails for fugitive slaves .

1850 statute

Massachusetts had abolished slavery in 1783, but the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 required government officials to assist slavecatchers in capturing fugitives within the state.

The demand from the South for more effective Federal legislation was voiced in the second fugitive slave law, drafted by Senator James Murray Mason of Virginia, grandson of George Mason, and enacted on September 18, 1850, as a part of the Compromise of 1850. Special commissioners were to have concurrent jurisdiction with the U.S. circuit and district courts and the inferior courts of territories in enforcing the law; fugitives could not testify in their own behalf; no trial by jury was provided.

Penalties were imposed upon marshals who refused to enforce the law or from whom a fugitive should escape, and upon individuals who aided black people to escape; the marshal might raise a posse comitatus; a fee of $10 was paid to the commissioner when his decision favored the claimant, only $5 when it favored the fugitive; and both the fact of the escape and the identity of the fugitive were determined on purely ex parte testimony. If a slave was brought in and returned to the master, the person who brought in the slave would receive a hefty sum of $10, equivalent to a value of $275 in 2008, per slave.

The severity of this measure led to gross abuses and defeated its purpose; the number of abolitionists increased, the operations of the Underground Railroad became more efficient, and new personal liberty laws were enacted in Vermont (1850), Connecticut (1854), Rhode Island (1854), Massachusetts (1855), Michigan (1855), Maine (1855 and 1857), Kansas (1858) and Wisconsin (1858). The personal liberty laws forbade justices and judges to take cognizance of claims, extended the Habeas corpus act and the privilege of jury trial to fugitives, and punished false testimony severely. In 1854, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin went so far as to declare the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional [14].

These state laws were one of the grievances that South Carolina would later use to justify their secession from the Union. Attempts to carry into effect the law of 1850 aroused much bitterness. The arrests of Sims and of Shadrach in Boston in 1851; of Jerry M. Henry, in Syracuse, New York, in the same year; of Anthony Burns in 1854, in Boston; and of the two Garner families in 1856, in Cincinnati, with other cases arising under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, probably had as much to do with bringing on the Civil War as did the controversy over slavery in the Territories.[citation needed]

Civil War-era legal status of fugitive slaves

With the beginning of the Civil War, the legal status of the slave was changed by his masters being in arms. Benjamin Franklin Butler, in May 1861, declared black slaves contraband of war. A confiscation bill was passed in August 1861 discharging from his service or labor any slave employed in aiding or promoting any insurrection against the government of the United States. By an act of July 17, 1862, any slave of a disloyal master who was in territory occupied by Northern troops was declared ipso facto free. But for some time the Fugitive Slave Law was considered still to hold in the case of fugitives from masters in the border states who were loyal to the Union government, and it was not until June 28, 1864 that the Act of 1850 was repealed.

Notes

  1. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=iyZMeGMgIgEC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=%22native+americans%22+slaves+puritans&source=bl&ots=7nShBHF4rc&sig=LhMGRTEjqqPa_AOhZGkG5Q6vYes&hl=es&ei=FT3tSufwKtaMkAXEs6mSDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CCIQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=%22native%20americans%22%20slaves%20puritans&f=false
  2. ^ http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/art1613.asp
  3. ^ Merriam 1888:308 – 310, Leg. Hist. Ord. of 1787.
  4. ^ Merriam 1888:314, Leg. Hist. Ord. of 1787
  5. ^ a b c Northwest Ordinance of 1787
  6. ^ Pohlmann, Marcus D.; Whisenhunt, Linda Vallar (2002). Student's Guide to Landmark Congressional Laws on Civil Rights. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 14. doi:10.1336/0313313857. ISBN 0313313857. http://books.google.com/books?id=XbzhWvjCxc0C&pg=PA22&lpg=PA22&dq=%22fugitive+slave+act%22+1793+original&source=bl&ots=1L3n-Z1HUr&sig=PN7rLclSxqyxZbcUmzexP86iwEY&hl=en&ei=9o33SvjKAYT6kAW4xLCkAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=15&ved=0CFcQ6AEwDg#v=onepage&q=northwest%20ordinance%20tobacco%20&f=false. 
  7. ^ Carlisle, Rodney P. (2007). Manifest destiny and the expansion of America. ABC-CLIO. p. 139. ISBN 185109833X. http://books.google.com/books?id=ka6LxulZaEwC&pg=PA139&lpg=PA139&dq=%22SOuthwest+ordinance+of+1790%22&source=bl&ots=lhKe8gMnCJ&sig=izAjVB57ZejhRfBu3sJiogWoSVM&hl=en&ei=oT_5SuezHZCDkAWU2MmuCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=18&ved=0CGMQ6AEwEQ#v=onepage&q=%22SOuthwest%20ordinance%20of%201790%22&f=false. 
  8. ^ a b Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
  9. ^ Pohlmann, p. 22
  10. ^ Merriam 1888:308 – 310, Leg. Hist. Ord. of 1787.
  11. ^ http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/art4.asp
  12. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=XbzhWvjCxc0C&pg=PA22&lpg=PA22&dq=%22fugitive+slave+act%22+1793+original&source=bl&ots=1L3n-Z1HUr&sig=PN7rLclSxqyxZbcUmzexP86iwEY&hl=es&ei=9o33SvjKAYT6kAW4xLCkAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=15&ved=0CFcQ6AEwDg#v=onepage&q=%22fugitive%20slave%20act%22%201793%20original&f=false
  13. ^ http://www.choices.edu/resources/documents/slavery_reading1.pdf
  14. ^ Wisconsin Supreme Court (1855). Unconstitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act. Milwaukee. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=170. 

References

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FUGITIVE SLAVE LAWS, a term applied in the United States to the Statutes passed by Congress in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of;negro slaves who escaped from one state into another or into a public territory. A fugitive slave clause was inserted in the Articles of Confederation of the New England Confederation of 1643, providing for the return of the fugitive upon the certificate of one magistrate in the jurisdiction out of which the said servant fled - no trial by jury being provided for. This seems to have been the only instance of an intercolonial provision for the return of fugitive slaves; there were, indeed, not infrequent escapes by slaves from one colony to another, but it was not until after the growth of anti-slavery sentiment and the acquisition of western territory, that it became necessary to adopt a uniform method for the return of fugitive slaves. Such provision was made in the Ordinance of 1787 (for the Northwest Territory), which in Article VI. provided that in the case of "any person escaping into the same [the Northwest Territory] from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original states, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid." An agreement of the sort was necessary to persuade the slave-holding states to union, and in the Federal Constitution, Article IV., Section II., it is provided that "no person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due." The first specific legislation on the subject was enacted on the 12th of February 1793, and like the Ordinance for the Northwest Territory and the section of the Constitution quoted above, did not contain the word "slave"; by its provisions any Federal district or circuit judge or any state magistrate was authorized to decide finally and without a jury trial the status of an alleged fugitive. The measure soon met with strong opposition in the northern states, and Personal Liberty Laws were passed to hamper officials in the execution of the law; Indiana in 1824 and Connecticut in 1828 providing jury trial for fugitives who appealed from an original decision against them. In 1840 New York and Vermont extended the right of trial by jury to fugitives and provided them with attorneys. As early as the first decade of the 19th century individual dissatisfaction with the law of 1793 had taken the form of systematic assistance rendered to negroes escaping from the South to Canada or New England - the so-called "Underground Railroad." i The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842 (16 Peters 539), that state authorities could not be forced to act in fugitive slave cases, but that national authorities must carry out the national law, was followed by legislation in Massachusetts (1843), Vermont (1843), Pennsylvania (1847) and Rhode Island (1848), forbidding state officials to help enforce the law and refusing the use of state gaols for fugitive slaves. The demand from the South for more effective Federal legislation was voiced in the second fugitive slave law, drafted by Senator J. M. Mason of Virginia, and enacted on the 18th of September 1850 as a part of the Compromise Measures of that year. Special commissioners were to have concurrent jurisdiction with the U.S. circuit and district courts and the inferior courts of Territories in enforcing the law; fugitives could not testify in their own behalf; no trial by jury was provided; i The precise amount of organization in the Underground Railroad cannot be definitely ascertained because of the exaggerated use of the figure of railroading in the documents of the "presidents" of the road, Robert Purvis and Levi Coffin, and of its many "conductors," and their discussion of the "packages" and "freight" shipped by them. The system reached from Kentucky and Virginia across Ohio, and from Maryland across Pennsylvania and New York, to New England and Canada, and as early as 1817 a group of anti-slavery men in southern Ohio had helped to Canada as many as moo slaves. The Quakers of Pennsylvania possibly began the work of the mysterious Underground Railroad; the best known of them was Thomas Garrett (1789-1871), a native of Pennsylvania, who, in 1822, removed to Wilmington, Delaware, where he was convicted in 1848 on four counts under the Fugitive Slave Law and was fined $800o; he is said to have helped 2700 slaves to freedom. The most picturesque figure of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman (c. 1820), called by her friend, John Brown, "General" Tubman, and by her fellow negroes "Moses." She made about a score of trips into the South, bringing out with her 300 negroes altogether. At one time a reward of $40,000 was offered for her capture. She was a mystic, with remarkable clairvoyant powers, and did great service as a nurse, a spy and a scout in the Civil War. Levi Coffin (1798-1877), a native of North Carolina (whose cousin, Vestal Coffin, had established before 1819 a "station" of the Underground near what is now Guilford College, North Carolina), in 1826 settled in Wayne County, Ohio; his home at New Garden (now Fountain City) was the meeting point of three "lines" from Kentucky; and in 1847 he removed to Cincinnati, where his labours in bringing slaves out of the South were even more successful. It has been argued that the Underground Railroad delayed the final decision of the slavery question, inasmuch as it was a "safety valve"; for, without it, the more intelligent and capable of the negro slaves would, it is asserted, have become the leaders of insurrections in the South, and would not have been removed from the places where they could have done most damage. Consult William Still, The UndergroundRailroad (Philadelphia, 1872), a collection of anecdotes by a negro agent of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and of the Philadelphia branch of the Railroad; and the important and scholarly work of Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1898).

penalties were imposed upon marshals who refused to enforce the law or from whom a fugitive should escape, and upon individuals who aided negroes to escape; the marshal might raise a posse comitatus; a fee of $10 was paid to the commissioner when his decision favoured the claimant and only $5 when it favoured the fugitive; and both the fact of the escape and the identity of the fugitive were to be determined on purely ex part y testimony. The severity of this measure led to gross abuses and defeated its purpose; the number of abolitionists increased, the operations of the Underground Railroad became more efficient, and new Personal Liberty Laws were enacted in Vermont (1850), Connecticut (1854), Rhode Island (1854), Massachusetts (1855), Michigan (1855), Maine (1855 and 1857), Kansas (1858) and Wisconsin (1858). These Personal Liberty Laws forbade justices and judges to take cognizance of claims, extended the habeas corpus act and the privilege of jury trial to fugitives, and punished false testimony severely. The supreme court of Wisconsin went so far (1859) as to declare the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional. These state laws were one of the grievances officially referred to by South Carolina (in Dec. 1860) as justifying her secession from the Union. Attempts to carry into effect the law of 1850 aroused much bitterness. The arrests of Sims and of Shadrach in Boston in 1851; of "Jerry" M`Henry, in Syracuse, New York, in the same year; of Anthony Burns in 1854, in Boston; and of the two Garner families in 1856, in Cincinnati, with other cases arising under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, probably had as much to do with bringing on the Civil War as did the controversy over slavery in the Territories.

With the beginning of the Civil War the legal status of the slave was changed by his master's being in arms. General B. F. Butler, inMay 1861, declared negro slaves contraband of war. A confiscation bill was passed in August 1861 discharging from his service or labour any slave employed in aiding or promoting any insurrection against the government of the United States. By an act of the 17th of July 1862 any slave of a disloyal master who was in territory occupied by northern troops was declared ipso facto free. But for some time the Fugitive Slave Law was considered still to hold in the case of fugitives from masters in the border states who were loyal to the Union government, and it was not until the 28th of June 1864 that the Act of 1850 was repealed.

See J. F. Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, vols. i. and ii. (New York, 1893); and M. G. M`Dougall, Fugitive Slaves, 1619-1865 (Boston, 1891).


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