The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was an Act of the United States Congress to give Effect to the Fugitive Slave Clause of the United States Constitution, which guaranteed a right of the slaveholder to recover an escape slave. The Act was passed by the House of Representatives on February 4, 1793, by a vote of 48-7 with 14 abstaining. The “Annals of Congress” state that law was approved on February 12, 1793.

When Congress create “An Act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters”, or more commonly known as the Fugitive Slave Act, they were responding to slave owners’ need to protect their property rights, as written into the 1787 Constitution. Article IV of the Constitution required the Federal Government to go after runaway slaves

The law put fugitive slaves at risk for recapture all their lives, but some slave-owners did not think the law was strong enough. It also classified children born to fugitive slave mothers are slaves and the property of the mother’s master, for all their lives.

The Act states:

 SEC. 3. And be it also enacted, That when a person held to labor in any of the United States, or in either of the Territories on the Northwest or South of the Ohio river, under the laws thereof, shall escape into any other part of the said States or Territory, the person to whom such labor or service may be due, his agent or attorney, is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such fugitive from labor, and to take him or her before any Judge of the Circuit or District Courts of the United States, residing or being within the State, or before any magistrate of a county, city, or town corporate, wherein such seizure or arrest shall be made, and upon proof to the satisfaction of such Judge or magistrate, either by oral testimony or affidavit taken before and certified by a magistrate of any such State or Territory, that the person so seized or arrested, doth, under the laws of the State or Territory from which he or she fled, owe service or labor to the person claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such Judge or magistrate to give a certificate thereof to such claimant, his agent, or attorney, which shall be sufficient warrant for removing the said fugitive from labor to the State or Territory from which he or she fled.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or hinder such claimant, his agent, or attorney, in so seizing or arresting such fugitive from labor, or shall rescue such fugitive from such claimant, his agent or attorney, when so arrested pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall harbor or conceal such person after notice that he or she was a fugitive from labor, as aforesaid, shall, for either of the said offences, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars. Which penalty may be recovered by and for the benefit of such claimant, by action of debt, in any Court proper to try the same, saving moreover to the person claiming such labor or service his right of action for or on account of the said injuries, or either of them.

The slave-catching industry expanded as a result of this law, with men who were effectively bounty hunters capturing and returning many slaves to their legal owners. In addition, because of the high demand of slaves in the deep south and hunt for fugitives, free blacks were at risks of being kidnapped and sold into slavery, even if they had their “free” papers. There were numerous instances in which people who were legally free and had never been slaves were captured and brought to the South to be sold into slavery.

Many Northern states enacted legislation to protect free black Americans, who could otherwise be abducted, then brought before court without the ability to produce a defense, and subsequently lawfully enslaved, as well as many runaway slaves. Theses law came to be known as “Personal Liberty Laws” and required slave owners and fugitive hunters to produce evidence that their captures were truly fugitive slaves. Just as southern states demanded the right to retrieve runaway slaves, northern states demanded the right to protect their free black residents from being kidnapped and sold into servitude in the South.

Slavery which constituted free labor in the United States increased the wealth and prosperity.


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