For the slave act of 1793, see Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.
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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.
The Act 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.
By 1843, several hundred slaves a year were successfully escaping to the North, making slavery an unstable institution in the border states.
The earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a Federal law which was written with the intent to enforce Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves. It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters.
Many Northern states wanted to circumvent the Fugitive Slave Act. Some jurisdictions passed personal liberty laws, mandating a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved; others forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of alleged fugitive slaves. In some cases, juries refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law.
The Missouri Supreme Court routinely held with the laws of neighboring free states, that slaves who had been voluntarily transported by their owners into free states, with the intent of the masters residing there permanently or indefinitely, gained their freedom as a result. The Fugitive Slave Law dealt with slaves who escaped to free states without their masters consent. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Prigg v.