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.