The Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers.
This was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a “slave power conspiracy”. It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionists nicknamed it the “Bloodhound Law” for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.
In Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star, the editors referred to use of the law as “Manstealing” in reference to the Bible verse, Exodus 21:16 that reads: And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
We copy from the Lowell American the following abstract:
It is necessary that the people shall be acquainted with the kidnapping law recently enacted by Congress, and as we cannot keep in type the entire law, we have made a brief but correct synopsis of it. Here it is:
But in the first place let us give Daniel Webster’s endorsement of the bill. The following is from his speech of the 7th of March, 1850:
“Every member of every Northern Legislature is bound by oath to support the Constitution of the United States; and this article of the Constitution which says to these States that they shall deliver up fugitive slaves is as binding an honor and in conscience as any other article; and no man fulfils his duty, under his oath, in any State Legislature who sets himself to work to find excuses, evasions, escapes from his constitutional duty. My friend at the head of the Judiciary Committee has a bill upon the subject now before the Senate, with some amendments to it which have been offered. I propose to support that bill with all proper authority and provisions in it, to the fullest extent – to the fullest extent.”
Now here is the substance of the “Bill”:
Duties of Commissioners.
Commissioners who have been or shall be appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United States, are authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act. – Sec. 1.
Appointment of Commissioners.
The Superior Court of each organized Territory shall have the same power to appoint Commissioners as the Circuit Court of the U.S., and the commissioners appointed by these Superior courts are to possess the powers conferred upon those appointed by the Circuit Courts. – Sec . 2.