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Coming of the Civil War, The Fugitive Slave Law

Fugitive Slave Law, opposed slavery, Harriet Beecher Stowe, personal liberty laws, Northern states

The one element of the Compromise of 1850 that explicitly favored the South was the Fugitive Slave Law. A federal law of 1793 required that slaves who escaped to a free state be returned if the master could offer proof of ownership to a state court. The new law turned these cases over to federal commissioners, and it denied a captured slave the right to testify in his or her own behalf or to be tried before a jury. The law violated Northernersí notions of statesí rights, it infringed on civil liberties in the North, and it turned Northerners into direct participants in Southern slavery. Northern citizens, even those who had not previously opposed slavery, refused to support the law. While some hid fugitives or helped spirit them into Canada, nine Northern states passed personal liberty laws that forbade state officials from helping to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe published a sentimental antislavery novel, Uncle Tomís Cabin, as a direct challenge to slavery in general and the Fugitive Slave Law in particular. It sold 300,000 copies that year, and 1.2 million by summer 1853.



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