Fugitive Slave Law

The 1850 federal fugitive slave law amended an earlier statute from 1793 that had provided for the return of runaway slaves who crossed state lines. The new, tougher measure was an essential component of the so-called Compromise of 1850 because the measure was designed to address longstanding southern complaints about the Underground Railroad. Resistance to the new law, however, soon proved widespread and the measure only further inflamed sectional antagonism. (By Matthew Pinsker)
Date Event
First fugitive slave case in Philadelphia under new federal law
Mob frees fugitive Shadrach Minkins after his arrest in Boston
Edward Gorsuch arrives in Philadelphia seeking warrants for his runaways
Commissioner Ingraham grants warrants for Gorsuch slaves and appoints Kline to head posse
Anthony Burns is arrested in Boston as a fugitive slave
Abolitionists meet at Faneuil Hall, Boston to protest the arrest of Anthony Burns
Anthony Burns begins his education at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio
A fugitive named Addison nearly kills slave-catchers while running in Illinois
John Kintzing Kane, the U.S. District Judge who ruled against Passmore Williamson in the Jane Johnson case, dies in Philadelphia
Governor Banks of Massachusetts signs the order removing Judge Edward Greely Loring as Judge of Probate for Suffolk County
Fugitive slave John Price arrested in Oberlin, Ohio but freed by a anti-slavery mob in nearby Wellington
Vermont passes a new Personal Liberty Law
Roger Taney issues decision in Ableman v. Booth
Alleged fugitive slave arrested in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and sent that evening to Philadelphia
- The fugitive slave case of Daniel Dangerfield from Harrisburg causes popular excitement in Philadelphia
The first trial of the Oberlin-Wellington slave rescuers opens in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio
In Philadelphia, the U.S. Commissioner frees Harrisburg alleged fugitive slave Daniel Dangerfield
- The federal trial of Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Simeon Bushnell continues in Cleveland, Ohio
Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Simeon Bushnell is found guilty in a Cleveland federal court
The trial of Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Charles Langston opens in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio
- The trial of Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Charles Langston continues in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio
Fugitive slave stowaway Columbus Jones arrives in chains at Hyannis, Massachusetts
Fugitive slave stowaway Columbus Jones returned to the South from Massachusetts
Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Charles Langston is found guilty under the Fugitive Slave Law in Cleveland
Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Simeon Bushnell is sentenced to sixty days in jail for violation of the Fugitive Slave Law
Oberlin-Wellington rescuer Charles Langston is sentenced to twenty days in jail
All defendants in the Columbus Jones kidnapping case acquitted in Massachusetts
Eight Ottawa, Illinois residents indicted under the Fugitive Slave Law for assisting a slave escape
Failed rescue in Philadelphia of a Virginia fugitive being returned to slavery
- Missouri Democratic Party Convention meets in Jefferson City
Multi-racial crowd in Troy, New York rescue arrested fugitive slave
Leading a crowd in Troy, New York, Harriet Tubman rescues runaway Charles Nalle
Governor of Ohio refuses extradition request of Tennessee for two "negro-stealers"
In New York City, "fire-eater" William L. Yancey of Alabama speaks at the Cooper Union
Vermont repeals its Personal Liberty Law
Maryland slaveholders meet President Lincoln to complain about non-enforcement of Fugitive Slave Act
Anthony Burns dies in Canada
In Washington D.C., the U.S. Senate votes to repeal all remaining Federal Fugitive Slave Acts
Date Title
Providence (RI) Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, "The Slave Riot at Carlisle, Pa.,” June 14, 1847
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, “A Slave Case,” November 30, 1848
Natchez (MS) Courier, “Important Slave Case,” December 12, 1848
(Columbus) Ohio State Journal, “New Law about Fugitive Slaves,” April 30, 1850
Boston (MA) Herald, “First Arrest under the New Fugitive Slave Bill,” September 30, 1850
Boston (MA) Herald, "Great Excitement Among the Colored People," October 25, 1850
Boston (MA) Liberator, "Slave-Hunters in Boston," November 1, 1850
Raleigh (NC) Register, "Another Outrage," November 27, 1850
(Columbus) Ohio State Journal, "Judge Grier and the Fugitive Slave Bill," December 3, 1850
New Orleans (LA) Picayune, “The Fugitive Slave Law,” June 18, 1851
New York Herald, “Important Decision on the Fugitive Slave Law,” September 4, 1851
Boston (MA) Evening Transcript, "The Fugitive Slave Riots in Pennsylvania," September 13, 1851
New Orleans (LA) Picayune, "The Fugitive Slave Riot," September 14, 1851
(Columbus) Ohio State Journal, "The Christiana Tragedy," September 23, 1851
Rochester (NY) Frederick Douglass' Paper, "Freedom's Battle at Christiana," September 25, 1851
New York Times, “Arrest of a Fugitive Slave,” October 2, 1851
Memphis (TN) Appeal, "Treason!," October 10, 1851
New York Times, “More Fugitive Slaves,” May 14, 1852
New York Times, “Arrest and Rescue of Fugitive Slaves,” October 22, 1852
New York Times, “Attempted Arrest of Fugitive Slaves,” November 8, 1852
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Interesting Slave Case,” November 16, 1852
New York Times, “Louisiana Legislature,” December 11, 1852
Rochester (NY) Frederick Douglass’ Paper, “The Kauffman Slave Case,” January 14, 1853
Boston (MA) Liberator, “The Martyr Kauffman,” December 30, 1853
John Henry Hill to William Still, January 19, 1854
New York Times, “A Fugitive Slave in Milwaukee,” March 17, 1854
New York Herald, "The Boston Fugitive Case," June 3, 1854
New York Herald, “A Singular Slave Case in Indiana,” December 18, 1854
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "The Fugitive Law," March 2, 1855
N. R. Johnston to William Still, September 1, 1855
Jacob Bigelow (William Penn) to William Still, October 6, 1855
Boston (MA) Herald, "The Fugitive Slave Case," October 10, 1855
New York Herald, "Threatened Civil War Between Virginia and Pennsylvania," January 31, 1856
Frances Watkins Harper to William Still, March 31, 1856
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "Underground Railroad," August 25, 1856
Washington (DC) National Era, "The Future Judged by the Past," January 1, 1857
Richmond (VA) Dispatch, "A Case in Point," January 3, 1857
New York Times, "Return of a Fugitive Slave," January 19, 1857
New York Times, "Views of Senator Cameron on Public Affairs," January 22, 1857
New York Times, “The Dred Scott Decision in the Ohio Legislature,” April 11, 1857
New York Times, “The Ohio Legislature and the Slavery Question,” April 22, 1857
New Orleans (LA) Picayune, “The New Nullification,” May 2, 1857
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "The Fate and the Folly of Compromises," May 25, 1857
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "Southern Rights," May 27, 1857
New York Times, “Great Excitement in Ohio,” May 30, 1857
New York Herald, “The Late Abolition Revolutionary Proceedings in Ohio,” May 31, 1857
Richmond (VA) Dispatch, “Excitement in Ohio,” June 1, 1857
New York Times, "Fugitive Slaves Arrested in Cincinnati," June 15, 1857
New York Times, “A Woman Fleeing from Slavery with her Children Arrested,” July 24, 1857
New York Times, “A Fugitive Slave Excitement in Philadelphia,” July 29, 1857
New York Times, “Action Under the Fugitive Slave Law,” October 26, 1857
New York Times, “News from Kansas,” November 13, 1857
New York Times, “Fugitive Slave Case at Ann Arbor, Mich,” December 4, 1857
New York Times, “A Fugitive Slave Excitement in Philadelphia,” December 5, 1857
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “The Runaway Slave in Brooklyn, N.Y.,” December 9, 1857
New York Herald, "The Kansas Trouble in Congress," January 3, 1858
Boston (MA) Liberator, "The Beauties of Personal Liberty Laws," January 8, 1858
Boston (MA) Herald, "Rescue of a Slave from the U.S. Marshal at Blairsville, PA," April 9, 1858
George Ballard to William Still, July 19, 1858
New York Times, "The Gerrit Smith Manifesto," July 22, 1858
New York Herald, "The Late Meeting of Maryland Slaveholders," July 23, 1858
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Gerrit Smith,” August 14, 1858
Joseph Medill to Abraham Lincoln, August 27, 1858
Ripley (OH) Bee, “Desperate Conflict with a Runaway Negro,” November 6, 1858
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “Rescuing a Fugitive Slave,” December 14, 1858
New York Herald, “Another Grand Scheme of Annexation,” January 22, 1859
Boston (MA) Liberator, "Man-Hunting in Pennsylvania," February 4, 1859
- New York Times, "May A Negro Go To College?," February 10, 1859
New York Times, “The Fugitive Slave Law,” March 4, 1859
New York Herald, “The Anti-Slavery Tactics,” March 10, 1859
Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “Slave Arrested in Harrisburgh [Harrisburg], Pa.,” April 4, 1859
New York Times, “Fugitive Slave Case in Pennsylvania,” April 5, 1859
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "Correspondence of the Mercury," April 15, 1859
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “Reflex of Opinion,” April 22, 1859
Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “The Oberlin Women,” April 28, 1859
New York Times, “Law and Public Opinion,” April 30, 1859
Boston (MA) Advertiser, “The Oberlin Rescue Cases,” May 2, 1859
New York Times, “Fugitive Slave Case in Zanesville, Ohio,” May 4, 1859
New York Times, “Growing Ferocious,” May 9, 1859
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “Langston Sentenced,” May 12, 1859
Lowell (MA) Citizen & News, “The Oberlin Slave Rescue Cases,” May 18, 1859
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “A Fugitive Slave Returned to Florida,” May 18, 1859
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “You Don’t Know the People of Ohio,” May 25, 1859
Boston (MA) Liberator, “Letter from the Hon. J. R. Giddings,” May 27, 1859
(Jackson) Mississippian, “The Oberlin Slave Rescuers,” May 27, 1859
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Respect for Law,” May 30, 1859
New York Times, “The Hyannis Fugitive Slave Case,” June 4, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “The Fugitive Slave Law,” June 14, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American, “Daring Abduction of Negroes,” June 15, 1859
Boston (MA) Liberator, “The Supreme Court of Wisconsin,” June 17, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American, “The Kidnappers,” June 22, 1859
Carlisle (PA) Herald, “The Alleged Kidnapping,” June 22, 1859
Lowell (MA) Citizen & News, “Fugitive Slave,” June 23, 1859
New York Times, “A Fugitive Slave Case in Washington,” June 25, 1859
Memphis (TN) Appeal, “Whither Are We Tending!,” June 26, 1859
New York Times, “Arrest for the Abduction of Slave,” June 27, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American, “Further of the Kidnappers,” June 29, 1859
New York Times, “Triumphal Reception of the Rescuers at Oberlin,” July 11, 1859
Abraham Lincoln to Samuel Galloway, July 28, 1859
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “Open Declaration of Hostilities,” August 31, 1859
Joseph Medill to Abraham Lincoln, September 10, 1859
New Orleans (LA) Picayune, "Untitled," November 25, 1859
Washington (DC) National Intelligencer, “The Carlisle Kidnapping Case,” December 17, 1859
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “Northern Sentiment,” December 19, 1859
Alonzo J. Grover to Abraham Lincoln, January 9, 1860
Abraham Lincoln to Alonzo J. Grover, January 15, 1860
Boston (MA) Herald, “A Conflict of the Races in Canada,” January 23, 1860
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “A Lesson for the South,” March 9, 1860
William Wilkins to James Watson Webb, March 26, 1860
Charlestown (VA) Free Press, “Fugitive Slave,” April 5, 1860
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “Slave Rescued,” April 28, 1860
New York Times, “The Charleston Convention,” May 1, 1860
Boston (MA) Herald, “A Fugitive,” June 7, 1857
(Jackson) Mississippian, “Violations of the Constitution,” June 15, 1860
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Another Case,” July 11, 1860
Boston (MA) Liberator, “Piracy in Cincinnati,” July 22, 1860
New York Herald, “Slaves in New York,” July 23, 1860
(Jackson) Mississippian, “Black Republicanism Defined,” July 25, 1860
Ripley (OH) Bee, “Bell for a Slave Code,” July 26, 1860
New York Herald, “Alleged Fugitive Slave Case in Philadelphia,” July 29, 1860
New York Herald, “Massachusetts Thoroughly Abolitionized,” September 7, 1860
Charleston (SC) Mercury, "The Terrors of Submission," October 11, 1860
New York Herald , "Vindication of the Fugitive Slave Law in Ottawa," October 13, 1860
Chicago (IL) Tribune, "The Union at the South," October 29, 1860
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Will They Do It?,” November 22, 1860
(Montpelier) Vermont Patriot, “Nullifying the Laws,” November 24, 1860
New York Herald, “The Real Disunionists,” November 25, 1860
New York Times, “Unionism in Georgia,” November 27, 1860
New York Herald, “The Meeting of Congress,” November 28, 1860
New York Times, “Mr. Buchanan's Style of Conciliation,” December 5, 1860
New York Times, “Vermont and the Personal Liberty Bill,” December 7, 1860
New York Herald, “Vermont Negroes and Wool,” December 8, 1860
Abraham Lincoln to William Kellogg, December 11, 1860
Abraham Lincoln to John A. Gilmer, December 15, 1860
New York Times, “The Toronto Fugitive Slave Case,” December 15, 1860
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “A Remarkable Statement,” December 20, 1860
John Thompson to William Still, December 21, 1860
Savannah (GA) News, “The Governor of Michigan Advocating Coercion,” January 9, 1861
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “The Fugitive Case,” January 24, 1861
(Montpelier) Vermont Patriot, “Vermont Personal Liberty Law,” February 9, 1861
Richmond (VA) Dispatch, “Massachusetts Personal Liberty Bill,” March 19, 1861
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “A Rugged Issue,” April 5, 1861
Chicago (IL) Tribune, “How To Execute It,” April 8, 1861
Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Army Slave Catching,” May 28, 1861
Charles B. Calvert to Abraham Lincoln, July 10, 1861
New York Herald, “Lovejoy Rebuked,” July 14, 1861
William H. Seward to George B. McClellan, Contrabands in District of Columbia, December 4, 1861
Hiram Corson to Robert Corson, November 1, 1871
William Whipper to William Still, December 4, 1871
Chicago Style Entry Link
Trial of Henry W. Allen, U.S. Deputy Marshall, for Kidnapping, with Arguments of Counsel & Charge of Justice Marvin, on the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law, in the Supreme Court of New York. Syracuse, NY: Power Press of the Daily Journal Office, 1852. View Record
Baker, H. Robert. The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006. View Record
Bearse, Austin. Reminiscences of Fugitive-Slave Law Days in Boston. Boston: Warren Richardson, 1880. View Record
Brandt, Nat, and Yanna Brandt. In the Shadow of the Civil War: Passmore Williamson and the Rescue of Jane Johnson. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2007. View Record
Craft, Ellen, and William Craft. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. London: William Tweedie, 1860. View Record
Desmond, Jerry R. "The Attempt to Repeal Maine's Personal Liberty Laws." Maine History 37, no. 4 (1998): 194-209. View Record
Finkelman, Paul. "Prigg V. Pennsylvania and Northern State Courts: Anti-Slavery use of a Pro-Slavery Decision." Civil War History 35 (1979): 5-35. View Record
Forbes, Ella. "'By My Own Right Arm': Redemptive Violence and the 1851 Christiana, Pennsylvania Resistance." Journal of Negro History 83, no. 3 (1998): 159-167. View Record
Forbes, Ella. "But We Have No Country: The 1851 Christiana, Pennsylvania, Resistance." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 123, no. 3 (1998): 248-250. View Record
Gara, Larry. "The Fugitive Slave Law in the Eastern Ohio Valley." Ohio History 73, no. 2 (1963): 116-128. View Record
Gara, Larry. "The Fugitive Slave Law: A Double Paradox." Civil War History 10, no. 3 (1964): 229-240. View Record
Hensel, William Uhler. The Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials of 1851: An Historical Sketch. Lancaster, PA: The New Era Printing Company, 1911. View Record
Jackson, Ruby West, and Walter T. McDonald. Finding Freedom: The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2007. View Record
Johnson, Linck C. "'Liberty Is Never Cheap': Emerson, 'The Fugitive Slave Law,' and the Antislavery Lecture Series at the Broadway Tabernacle." New England Quarterly 76 (December 2003): 550-592. View Record
Katz, Jonathan. Resistance at Christiana: The Fugitive Slave Rebellion, Christiana Pennsylvania, September 11, 1851: A Documentary Account. New York: Cromwell, 1974. View Record
Landon, Fred. "Anderson Fugitive Case." Journal of Negro History 7, no. 3 (1922): 233-242. View Record
Landon, Fred. "The Negro Migration to Canada After the Passing of the Fugitive Slave Act." Journal of Negro History 5, no. 1 (January 1920): 22-36. View Record
Leddy, Chuck. "Boston Combusts: The Fugitive Slave Case of Anthony Burns." Civil War Times 46, no. 3 (2007): 50-55. View Record
Levy, Leonard W. "Sims' Case: The Fugitive Slave Law in Boston in 1851." Journal of Negro History 35 (January 1950): 39-74. View Record
Maginnes, David R. "The Case of the Court House Rioters in the Rendition of the Fugitive Slave Anthony Burns, 1854." Journal of Negro History 56 (January 1971): 31-42. View Record
May, Samuel J. The Fugitive Slave Law and Its Victims. New York: American Antislavery Society, 1856. View Record
Preston, Emmett D. "The Fugitive Slave Acts in Ohio." Journal of Negro History 28, no. 4 (1943): 422-477. View Record
Shapiro, Samuel. "The Rendition of Anthony Burns." Journal of Negro History 44 (January 1959): 34-51. View Record
Shipherd, Jacob R., Ralph Plumb, and Henry Everard Peck. History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1859. View Record
Smith, Earl. "William Cooper Nell on the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850." Journal of Negro History 66 (1981): 37-40. View Record
Spooner, Lysander. A Defence for Fugitive Slaves against the Acts of Congress of February 12, 1793, and September 18, 1850. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1850. View Record
Varon, Elizabeth R. Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. View Record
Yanuck, Julius. "The Garner Fugitive Slave Case." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 40, no. 1 (June 1953): 47-66. View Record
How to Cite This Page: "Fugitive Slave Law," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/9587.