Identify the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act on the African American population and the ways in which individuals and organizations in black communities responded?

Fugitive Slave Act on the African American population

Q1. Identify the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act on the African American population and the ways in which individuals and organizations in black communities responded?

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it easier for runaway slaves to be captured and returned to their masters. Northerners opposed the law; many northern states had passed personal liberty laws that forbade the kidnapping and forced return of fugitives. Personal liberty laws were ruled unconstitutional in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842); however, the Supreme Court did affirm that the return of fugitives was a federal matter, in which state officials could not be required to assist.

8. The new Fugitive Slave Act required federal marshals to pursue alleged fugitive slaves, and federal commissioners were appointed to oversee runaway cases. These officials received $10 for a runaway returned to the claimant and $5 for a runaway set free—which reflected the law’s bias. Northerners were most angered by the fact that federal marshals were authorized to call on citizen bystanders to aid in the capture of fugitives; bystanders who refused to help could be fined $1,000 and sent to jail for six months. Even northerners who had not given much thought to slavery were angered by what appeared to be the federal government exceeding its power. The new law frightened African Americans; even those who had escaped slavery years before could be returned to bondage. Fugitives fled from the United States and went to Canada, Mexico, and Europe for safety.

9. The new law also put free blacks at risk; an unknowable number of free blacks as well as fugitive slaves suffered enslavement or reenslavement at the hands of outlaw slave hunters. During the 1850s, 296 of 330 fugitives formally arrested, or 90 percent, suffered reenslavement.


1. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, vigilance committees, which had at one time been all black, became increasingly interracial. These committees expanded the network of cellars, church basements, and other safe places where refugees could hide.

2. William Still and Harriet Tubman were important leaders of the underground railroad and vigilance committee antislavery network. Tubman, a runaway, personally traveled to the South at least fourteen times to help 130 slaves escape. Still published his stories about the network in The Underground Rail Road (1872).

3. In September 1851, near Christiana, Pennsylvania, a U.S. marshal and a party of slaveholders demanded to search the home of Eliza and William Parker—two runaways—for fugitives. Eliza sounded a large horn that summoned more than seventy-five local supporters to their home, where they killed a slaveholder and wounded his son. The Parkers and the other fugitives they were harboring escaped to Canada, but three white Quakers and thirty-five blacks were arrested for treason under the Fugitive Slave Act. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens assisted in their defense, and eventually the charges were dropped.

4. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) graphically portrayed slavery’s devastating effects on families, encouraging empathy with slavery’s victims to increase support for abolition.

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