Slavery’s Last Stand (Dec. 9)

Slavery’s Last Stand
By the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stringent laws were made to
prevent assistance being given to any slaves attempting to escape.
The antislavery answer to these laws was a perfection of the
"Underground Railroad."
Read: THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT Vol. 43, pp. 306-312

FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT
(1850)

[The Fugitive Slave Act was part of the group of measures known collectively as
the "Compromise of 1850." By this compromise, the anti-slavery party gained the
admission of California as a free state, and the prohibition of slave-trading in the
District of Columbia. The slavery party, on the other hand, besides concessions with
regard to Texas, gained this act, which, however, by its stringency did much to
rouse abolitionist sentiment in the North.]

BE IT enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That
the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed
commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the Circuit
Courts of the United States, and Who, in consequence of such appointment,
are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of
the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may
exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense against
the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same
under and by the virtue of the thirty-third section of the act of the
twenty-fourth of September seventeen hundred and eighty-nine,
entitled " A n Act to establish the judicial courts of the United States"
shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and
discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each
organized Territory of the United States shall have the same power
to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and
affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which
is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States; and all
commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes
by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United
States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred
by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit
Courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover
exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this
act.
306

AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS 307
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the
United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of the
commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim
fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed
by this act.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above
named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the
Circuit and District Courts of the United States, in their respective
circuits and districts within the several States, and the judges of the
Superior Courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in
term-time and vacation; shall grant certificates to such claimants,
upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove
such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions
herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons
may have escaped or fled.
SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of
all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants
and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them
directed; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive
such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all
proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction
thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of
such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the Circuit or
District Court for the district of such marshal; and after arrest of
such fugitive, by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time
in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive
escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his
deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted
for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the
service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or District
whence he escaped: and the better to enable the said commissioners,
when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently,
in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the
United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered,
within their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing
under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to
time, to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued

308 AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties; with
authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by
them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their
aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when
necessary to ensure a faithful observance of the clause of the Constitution
referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act;
and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the
prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services
may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose; and said warrants
shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State
within which they are issued.
SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That when a person held to
service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has
heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory
of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or
labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized,
by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified
under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory
in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such
fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of
the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit,
district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service
or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same
can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person
to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner,
whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant
in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made,
by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by
such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony,
duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice
of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath
and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from
which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with
a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with
the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal
shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with
proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service

AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS 309
or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested
does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming
him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may
have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make
out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a
certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor
due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape
from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with
authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use
such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the
circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person
back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped
as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony
of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates
in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive
of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove
such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped,
and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any
process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.
SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall
knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant,
his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting
him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or
labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or
attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the
custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other
person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested,
pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid,
abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid,
directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney,
or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid;
or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery
and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the
fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid,
shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding
one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months,

310 AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the
United States for the district in which such offence may have been
committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if
committed within any one of the organized Territories of the
United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil
damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of
one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be
recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial
Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have
been committed.
Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies,
and the clerks of the said District and Territorial Courts,
shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed for
similar services in other cases; and where such services are rendered
exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the
claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed
fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient
proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in whole by such
claimant, his or her agent or attorney; and in all cases where the
proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee
of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery
of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney; or a
fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion
of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive
of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to
be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney.
The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued
by such commissioner for the arrest and detention of fugitives from
service or labor as aforesaid, shall also be entitled to a fee of five
dollars each for each person he or they may arrest, and take before
any commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of
such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable
by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be
necessarily performed by him or them; such as attending at the
examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him
with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination
of such commissioners; and, in general, for performing

AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS 311
such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her
attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be
made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers
of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near
as may be practicable, and paid by such claimants, their agents or
attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor
be ordered to be delivered to such claimant by the final determination
of such commissioner or not.
SEC. 9. And be it further enacted, That, upon affidavit made by
the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate
has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such
fugitive will be rescued by force from his or their possession before
he can be taken beyond the limits of the State in which the arrest
is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain
such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State
whence he fled, and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent,
or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized
and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary
to overcome such force, and to retain them in his service so long as
circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while
so employed, to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed
the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of
criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which
the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.
SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That when any person held
to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the District of
Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or
labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney, may apply to
any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make
satisfactory proof to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape
aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to
such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made
of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person
so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be; and a transcript
of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk
and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State,
Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may be found,

312 AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other officer
authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping
from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to
be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the
service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such
record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of
other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in
addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the
person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant.
And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized
by this act to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon
the production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, grant
to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person
identified and proved to be owing service or labor as aforesaid,
which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest
and transport such person to the State or Territory from which he
escaped: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed
as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence
as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined
upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in law.
Approved, September 18, 1850.

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