Fugitive Slave Act (1850)

This Act was the most controversial part of the package of bills that made up the Compromise of 1850. It required citizens—including those within free states—to assist in returning escaped slaves to their masters, and denied jury trials to fugitive slaves. It resulted in the growth of the Underground Railroad, a network of people providing shelter and other assistance for escaped slaves traveling North.

This provision may have been contrary to Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution, which provides for the return of escaped slaves “in consequence of any law or regulation” of the state to which they escape.

Years later in 1865, the question of slavery would be settled once and for all with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.