The fugitive slave act was passed by the United States congress on
September 18, 1850. It was part of the compromise of 1850 between the southern
slaveholders and the north with free slaves. This act provided for the return
of slaves who escaped one state to another. This law was actually approved on
February 12, 1793 but it was strengthened by the demand of the southern states
in 1850. This act also required the government and even the residents to
enforce the capture and return of the slaves. This act had many immediate
effects and long term effects that shape the United States. This act caused the
American civil war, it caused the demand for civil rights and it caused the
abomination of slavery.
The 1850 fugitive slave act was enacted to further regulate the
life of slaves. It was put as a concession for the southern states as part of
the compromise of 1850. One of the main reasons this act was prompted was to
“obtain agreement between the southern states and the northern free states as
to the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American war”
(Socratic.org. During the Missouri compromise, California was declared a free
state. This outraged the south because it was supposed to be a slave state
since it was under the compromise line. To please the south and to recover from
the in balance, the government set in an act that was beneficial to the south.
Southerners also wanted this act to pass because they felt threatened when
thousands of slaves had escaped the slavery states to the free states.
Most of the south supported the fugitive slave act. The
southerners were the ones demanding the law to pass. They wanted a more
effective legislation to further their control of the slaves of the slaves.
They went so far that the slaves could not testify on their own behalf nor be
permitted a trial by jury. The southerners felt that the act would benefit them
because every citizen in the United States was to be a slave catcher. They felt
empowered because this law benefited the south. The southerners also captured
free African Americans and turned them into slaves. These free African
Americans “were easy prey for kidnappers, who, under the guise of the Fugitive
Slave Act, kidnapped and sold them into slavery” (education.gov). Some slave
catchers would kidnap African Americans without checking their identities. Once
kidnapped, the slave catchers would destroy freedom papers and they would most
likely never be able to regain their freedom again. So essentially, the south was
not only catching runaway slaves; they were also kidnaping free African
The north, on the other hand opposed the 1850 fugitive slave law.
They believed it was inhumane. Northern states were so angered by the fugitive
slave law that they “passed special Lara’s nullifying the law, participated in
civil disobedience and helped slaves escape to Canada” (PBS.org). Federal
government had to get involved and catch the slaves because the north did not
want to participate. Quakers in Pennsylvania were jailed and fined for helping
the runaway slaves. All of these disobeying actions done by the northern states
rendered the fugitive slave act as ineffective. So many people in the north
opposed this act because it caused tensions between the north and south. They
believed that the fugitive slave act was unfair because many free African
Americans were sold into slavery without jury or anything. They felt it was
inhumane that African Americans were seen a property than actual human beings.
During the years this act was effective; abolitionists groups increased. This
act showed how wrong slavery was and it is among the reasons why slavery is not
The fugitive slave act of 1850 was being opposed more and more
until “the law became virtually unenforceable in certain northern states.
Tensions between the south and north states grew stronger. The north states
kept trying to pass laws meant to oppress the act but they were most likely
denied. The immediate result of the fugitive slave act was the pleasure of the
southerners being aided to catch runaway slaves. The long term effects were
devastating. The fugitive slave act ultimately led to the civil war as tensions
kept growing between the north and south. Also, the use of the underground
railroads increased tremendously and a lot of slaves escaped to Canada. The
fugitive slave act also helped people understand and examine how they viewed
slavery and it forced them to make moral decision about slavery.