Escaping Slavery

FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT, 1820

THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT was part of the Compromise of 1850.  According to the Compromise the new state of California would be admitted to the Union as a free state, and in order to pacify southern states the Fugitive Slave Act was passed.  This act required citizens to help in the recovery of runaway slaves who sought freedom in the North.

 

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act delighted southern slave owners who now had stronger legal means to capture runaways who had escaped to the North  Yet, the Fugitive Slave Act threatened not only former slaves in the North, but free blacks as well who could be captured and sent to the South as slaves.

 

The Fugitive Slave Act enraged white abolitionists, so the Underground Railroad became more active.  An organized system of people and places, the Underground Railroad helped thousands of slaves escape to the northern United States and Canada during this period.

 

Ultimately, instead of providing a "compromise," the Fugitive Slave Act only served to divide people's views of slavery; many who were ambivalent about slavery before the act began to take strong views of this institution. 

 

 

(Image: "Escaping Slavery," U.S. South, 1850s, *image reference: NW0197)