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The Impact of the Fugitive Slave Law on Abolitionism

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The Impact of the Fugitive Slave Law on Abolitionism
In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson accused the King of Britain of violating the sacred human rights of life and liberty by promoting slavery as a means of economic development. While Congress omitted this section from the final document, it does show that slavery was an issue for the American nation from its inception. So, while it may have been established by its mother country, the roots of slavery are laid deep in American soil. By the early 19th century, slavery had grown up and become interwoven with all social and political institutions, and was considered by many to be a vital part of our nation.

As many of the northern states began to change their policies on the enslavement of Africans, the South became aware that those areas might become a haven of refuge for runaway slaves. In an effort to appease southern slave owners, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1793, which allowed slave owners to apprehend fugitives in any state or territory and only required them to apply for custody from a circuit or district judge. Due to the act’s ambiguity and lack of uniform enforcement, slaveholders became increasingly agitated. The growing movement of abolitionists to smuggle and rescue fugitive slaves compounded this frustration; the best know organization being the Underground Railroad.

One of the larger abolitionist groups, The American Anti-Slavery Society, opposed the Acts of 1793, claiming them to be unconstitutional. They, like many, believed that each state had the right to legislate in regards to its policies on abolition and aimed to convince the South that slaveholding was a heinous crime in the sight of God. The Society...

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...cratic review Apr. 1851: 352-360. American Memory. Library of Congress. 2 Feb. 2002 .

Lord, John Chase. "The higher law," in its application to the Fugitive slave bill: A sermon on the duties men owe to God and to governments. New York: Union Safety Committee, 1851. American Memory. Library of Congress. 8 Feb. 2002 .

Shaw, Lemeul, et al. To the citizens of Massachusetts. The undersigned are moved by an imperative sense of duty to address their fellow-citizens of the State of Massachusetts, concerning the portentous condition of our public affairs. n.p.:n.p., 1850. American Memory. Library of Congress. 6 Feb. 2002 <>.

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