Fugitive Slave Acts


Fugitive Slave Acts

U.S. laws of 1793 and 1850 (repealed in 1864) that provided for the seizure and return of runaway slaves. The 1793 law authorized a judge alone to decide the status of an alleged fugitive slave. Northern opposition led to enactment of state personal-liberty laws that entitled slaves to a jury trial and as early as 1810 prompted individuals to aid the Underground Railroad. Increased pressure from the South brought passage of the second statute in 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850. It imposed penalties on federal marshals who refused to enforce the law and on individuals who helped slaves to escape; fugitives could not testify on their own behalf, nor were they permitted a jury trial. Its severity led to increased interest in the abolition movement. Additional personal-liberty laws enacted by northern states to thwart the act were cited by South Carolina as justification for its secession in 1860.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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