Literature Study GuidesFugitive Slave Act Of 1850

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 | Study Guide

United States Congress

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United States Congress

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At a Glance

  • By the time the Constitution was written, in 1787, at least five Northern states had already abolished slavery. In the ensuing years, as new territories were being added and the United States was forming, Southern states fought in Congress to keep slavery legal while in the North fervor to end slavery increased.
  • Individual Northern states created laws to combat federal laws forcing Northerners to aid the South in its slavery practices. Decades of disputes resulted in the Compromise of 1850. This was a package of five bills passed by Congress and mainly negotiated and supported by Senators Henry Clay (Kentucky), Daniel Webster (Massachusetts), and Stephen A. Douglas (Illinois).
  • By far the most controversial component in the Compromise of 1850 was the Fugitive Slave Act. This law included harsh penalties for assisting enslaved persons fleeing from their captors and severe restrictions on civil liberties for enslaved and free African Americans alike.
  • The act greatly increased resentments between North and South. Events of the 1850s led to increasing tensions that ultimately resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861.
  • The law is noteworthy for its unprecedented restriction and suppression of the rights of African Americans to defend themselves and present testimony on their own behalf.


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