The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was a law passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850. It was part of a series of laws known as the Compromise of 1850 that were designed to ease tensions between Northern and Southern states over the issue of slavery.
The law made it a federal crime to assist an escaped slave and allowed slave owners to retrieve their escaped slaves even if they had fled to free states. The law also established a system of federal commissioners who were responsible for hearing and adjudicating cases of runaway slaves.
Under the law, anyone accused of being a runaway slave was denied the right to a trial by jury, and their testimony was not admissible in court. The law also required citizens and law enforcement officials to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves.
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was highly controversial and was opposed by many in the North, who saw it as a violation of their states’ rights and a betrayal of the principles of freedom and democracy. The law was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
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- Read our snapshot biography of Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who had been enslaved and was impacted by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.