Did Northern authorities before the Civil War make any attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and/or stop the Underground Railroad?


Yes, when you hear about the Underground Railroad being a dangerous path to freedom, all of that danger was in the North. The Underground Railroad did not exist in the south. It only existed in the north to help slaves after they reached the north. Only a small number of people in the north helped escaped slaves and with the exception of short periods escaped slaves could still be captured and sent south even from the northern states. Most of those associated with the underground railway were free blacks or escaped slaves. The famous conductor Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave. Myths of the Underground Railroad

Typically, For much of the time of slavery in the United States, there were shades of freedom for escaped slaves in the North. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, guaranteed a right of a slaveholders to recover an escaped slave even in the North. Sometimes State Laws in Free States still enforced slavery: In 1804, Ohio passed a law prohibiting runaway slaves from entering the state. It wasn't until 1840 that Ohio had the concept of slaves entering their state would become free, and only then based upon how long they stayed. It was not immediate.

In 1850 as part of a larger compromise the federal government would take away enforcement of slave laws from the states. In 1850 as part of the Missouri Compromise the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 required the return of fugitive slaves even if they reached Northern Free States. Any black--even free blacks--could be sent south solely on the affidavit of anyone claiming to be his or her owner. . This effectively meant that no state in the Union was a free state, because any local authorities could be coerced into sending any African American, free or slave south on the flimsiest of justifications. Also Slave holders were legally able to bring their slaves north when they traveled without fear of an escape supported by local authorities. This was a big factor in the North's radicalization and ultimate creation and support for the Abolitionist Republican Party in the elections of 1856 and 1860.

Northerners who did not assist escaped slaves when Slavery was mostly prevalent in the South, Now were opposing it because they legally had no recourse but to accept it. It was as much a reaction against the South.

Northern Reaction to the Fugitive Slave Laws.

  • In Christiana, Pennsylvania, in 1851, a gun battle broke out between abolitionists and slave catchers,
  • In Wisconsin, abolitionists freed a fugitive named Joshua Glover from a local jail.
  • In Boston, federal marshals and state troops were needed to prevent a crowd from storming a court house to free a fugitive named Anthony Burns. An estimated 50,000 people lined the streets of Boston, watching Anthony Burns walk in shackles toward the waterfront and the waiting ship.
  • The most outward example of pro abolitionist sentiment was the election of the Abolitionist Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

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