Fugitive Slave Law
Compromise of 1850
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Compromise of 1850 and Slave Law
|April 24, 1851 "Warning Poster"
|Fugitive Slave Law (aka Fugitive Slave Act)
Fugitive Slave Law
What was the Fugitive Slave Act? The Fugitive Slave Law
of 1850, commonly referred to as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was one of the five
laws that passed in the Compromise of 1850. The Fugitive Slave Law stated that any United States marshal
or official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave was liable to a fine of $1,000. Law-enforcement officials had a duty
to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave, based solely on a claimant's sworn testimony of ownership.
The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf. In addition, any person who aided
a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Officers who
captured a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee. Of the five bills that comprised the Compromise
of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was the most controversial. The passage of this Act, along
with slaveholding rights in Texas, allowed California to enter the union as a free state
and prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia. This Act was particularly hated by abolitionists and stoked the fire of the Underground Railroad. (See The Compromise of 1850
and the Fugitive Slave Act: The Ramifications.)
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 consists of five laws passed in September of 1850
that dealt with the issue of slavery. In 1849 California requested permission to enter the Union as a free state, potentially
upsetting the balance between the free and slave states in the U.S. Senate. Senator Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions
on January 29, 1850, in an attempt to seek a compromise and avert a crisis between North and South. As part of the Compromise
of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, commonly referred to as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was amended and the slave
trade in Washington, D.C., was abolished. Furthermore, California entered the Union as a free state and a territorial government
was created in Utah. Also, an act was passed settling a boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico that also established
a territorial government in New Mexico.
The Compromise of 1850 was comprised of the following five bills:
1) California was entered as a
2) New Mexico and Utah were each allowed to use popular sovereignty to decide the issue of slavery. In other words, the people would decide whether
the states would be free or slave.
3) The Republic of Texas relinquished claimed land in present-day New Mexico and
received $10 million to pay its debt to Mexico.
4) The slave trade was abolished in the District of Columbia.
Fugitive Slave Act made any federal official who did not arrest a runaway slave liable to pay a fine.
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives
of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the Circuit
Courts of the United States, and Who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice
of the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense
against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same under and by the virtue of the thirty-third section
of the act of the twenty-fourth of September seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, entitled "An Act to establish the judicial
courts of the United States" shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and
duties conferred by this act.
And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each organized Territory of the United States shall have
the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses
in civil causes, which is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States; and all commissioners who shall hereafter
be appointed for such purposes by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United States, shall possess all the
powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United
States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.
And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall from time to time
enlarge the number of the commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and
to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.
And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges
of the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several States,
and the judges of the Superior Courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in term-time and vacation; shall grant
certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from
service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped
And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute
all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed; and should any marshal or deputy
marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute
the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant, on the
motion of such claimant, by the Circuit or District Court for the district of such marshal; and after arrest of such fugitive,
by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive
escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond,
to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State,
Territory, or District whence he escaped: and the better to enable the said commissioners, when thus appointed, to execute
their duties faithfully and efficiently, in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within
their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time,
to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties;
with authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and
call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to ensure a faithful observance
of the clause of the Constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act; and all good citizens are hereby
commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as
aforesaid, for that purpose; and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State within
which they are issued.
And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United
States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons
to whom such service or labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney,
in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the
same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts,
judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from
service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or
causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine
the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing,
to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified
by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions
under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate
of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which
seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the
person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor
to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid,
and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting
forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from
the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney,
to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such
fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under
this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first
[fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such
fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any
process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.
And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such
claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive
from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from
service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting
as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person
so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other
person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery
and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as
aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not
exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which
such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of
the organized Territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured
by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action
of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been
And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said District and Territorial
Courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed for similar services in other cases; and where
such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent
or attorney, or where such supposed fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid,
then such fees are to be paid in whole by such claimant, his or her agent or attorney; and in all cases where the proceedings
are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery
of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not,
in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest
and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized
to execute the process to be issued by such commissioner for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as
aforesaid, shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest, and take before any
commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable
by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them; such as attending
at the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until
the final determination of such commissioners; and, in general, for performing such other duties as may be required by such
claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees
usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near as may be practicable,
and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor be ordered to
be delivered to such claimant by the final determination of such commissioner or not.
And be it further enacted, That, upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney,
after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will he rescued by force from his
or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the State in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty
of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State whence he fled, and
there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent, or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized
and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such force, and to retain them in his service
so long as circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while so employed, to receive the same compensation,
and to be allowed the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge
of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.
And be it further enacted, That when any person held to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the
District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent
or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof to such court,
or judge in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon
the court shall cause a record to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping,
with such convenient certainty as may be; and a transcript of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and
of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State, Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may
be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other office, authorized by the law of the United States to cause
persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor of the person
escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence
if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person
escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant, And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized
by this act to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon the production of the record and other evidences
aforesaid, grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person identified and proved to be owing service
or labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the
State or Territory from which he escaped: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production
of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined upon other
satisfactory proofs, competent in law.
Approved, September 18, 1850.
(Sources listed at bottom of page.)
Recommended Reading: The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Paperback), by David M. Potter. Review: Professor Potter treats an incredibly complicated and misinterpreted
time period with unparalleled objectivity and insight. Potter masterfully explains the climatic events that led to Southern
secession – a greatly divided nation – and the Civil War: the social, political and ideological conflicts;
culture; American expansionism, sectionalism and popular sovereignty; economic and tariff systems; and slavery. In other words, Potter places under the microscope the root causes and origins of the Civil War.
He conveys the subjects in easy to understand language to edify the reader's understanding (it's
not like reading some dry old history book). Delving beyond surface meanings
and interpretations, this book analyzes not only the history, but the historiography of the time period as well. Continued
rejects the historian's tendency to review the period with all the benefits of hindsight. He simply traces the events, allowing
the reader a step-by-step walk through time, the various views, and contemplates the interpretations of contemporaries and
other historians. Potter then moves forward with his analysis. The Impending Crisis is the absolute gold-standard of historical
writing… This simply is the book by which, not only other antebellum era books, but all history books should be judged.
Recommended Reading: American Slavery, American Freedom. Description: "If it is possible to understand the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom, Virginia is surely the place to begin," writes Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom,
a study of the tragic contradiction at the core of America.
Morgan finds the key to this central paradox in the people and politics of the state that was both the birthplace of the revolution
and the largest slaveholding state in the country. With a new introduction. Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and the Albert
J. Beveridge Award. Continued below...
About the Author:
Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University
and the author of Benjamin Franklin. Morgan was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000.
Recommended Reading: Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States) (Hardcover: 904 pages). Description: Published in 1988 to universal acclaim, this single-volume treatment of the Civil
War quickly became recognized as the new standard in its field. James M. McPherson, who
won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, impressively combines a brisk writing style with an admirable thoroughness.
James McPherson's fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades
from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly
recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War including the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates,
and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. It flows into a masterful chronicle of the war itself--the battles, the strategic
maneuvering by each side, the politics, and the personalities. Continued below...
notable are McPherson's new views on such matters as Manifest Destiny, Popular Sovereignty, Sectionalism, and slavery
expansion issues in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession, internal dissent and anti-war
opposition in the North and the South, and the reasons for the Union's victory. The
book's title refers to the sentiments that informed both the Northern and Southern views of the conflict. The South seceded
in the name of that freedom of self-determination and self-government for which their fathers had fought in 1776, while the
North stood fast in defense of the Union founded by those fathers as the bulwark of American
liberty. Eventually, the North had to grapple with the underlying cause of the war, slavery, and adopt a policy of emancipation
as a second war aim. This "new birth of freedom," as Lincoln called it, constitutes the proudest
legacy of America's bloodiest conflict.
This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing "second American Revolution" we call the Civil War, a war
that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty. . Perhaps more than any other book, this one belongs on the bookshelf of every Civil War buff.
Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President
(Library of Religious Biography). Description: Since its original publication in 1999, "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President"
has garnered numerous accolades, including the prestigious 2000 Lincoln Prize. Allen Guelzo's peerless biography of America's most celebrated president is now available for the
first time in a fine paperback edition. The first "intellectual biography" of Lincoln, this
work explores the role of ideas in Lincoln's life, treating
him as a serious thinker deeply involved in the nineteenth-century debates over politics, religion, and culture. Written with
passion and dramatic impact, Guelzo's masterful study offers a revealing new perspective on a man whose life was in many ways
a paradox. As journalist Richard N. Ostling notes, "Much has been written about Lincoln's
belief and disbelief," but Guelzo's extraordinary account "goes deeper."
Recommended Reading: Arguing
about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress. Description: In the 1830s, slavery was so deeply entrenched that it could not even be discussed
in Congress, which had enacted a "gag rule" to ensure that anti-slavery petitions would be summarily rejected. This stirring
book chronicles the parliamentary battle to bring "the peculiar institution" into the national debate, a battle that some
historians have called "the Pearl Harbor of the slavery controversy." The campaign to make
slavery officially and respectably debatable was waged by John Quincy Adams who spent nine years defying gags, accusations
of treason, and assassination threats. In the end he made his case through a combination of cunning and sheer endurance. Telling
this story with a brilliant command of detail, Arguing About Slavery endows history with majestic sweep, heroism, and moral
Recommended Reading: What Hath
God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
(Oxford History of the United States)
(Hardcover: 928 pages). Review: The newest volume in
the renowned Oxford History of the United States-- A brilliant portrait of an era that saw dramatic transformations in American
life The Oxford History of the United States
is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York
Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker
Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American
War, an era when the United States expanded
to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent. Continued below…
narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American
empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information.
These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from
an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture.
In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines
the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public
education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the true prophets
of America's future. He reveals the power
of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and
other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion -- Manifest Destiny -- culminates
in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico
to gain California and Texas for the United States. By 1848, America
had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative of this formative period in United States history.
Sources: U.S. Department of State; Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers:
Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860, 1970; Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic : An Account of the
United States Government's Relations to Slavery, 2002; John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on
the Plantation, 1999 Yale Law School: The Avalon Project; United States Statutes at Large