The Fugitive Slave Law

The Fugitive Slave Law required the return of runaway slaves. All black, even the free blacks, were subject to be returned to the south solely on the affidavit of anyone claiming to be his or her owner. The law stripped runaway slaves of basic rights, such as the right to a jury trial and the right to testify in one’s own defense.

Under the law, an accused runaway was to stand trial in front of a special commissioner, who would be paid $10 if the fugitive was returned to slavery but only $5 if the fugitive was freed. This was seen by many as a bribe.

Later, the law required all U.S. citizens and U.S. marshals to assist in the capture of escapees. Anyone who refused to help in the capturing of a fugitive or interfered with the arrest of a slave, or tried to free a slave already in custody was subject to a heavy fine and imprisonment.

The Fugitive Slave Law produced widespread outrage in the north. The free black communities of the north responded defiantly to the 1850 Law. They provided fugitive slaves with sanctuary and established vigilance committees to protect blacks from hired kidnappers.

Source: The Fugitive Slave Law
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