The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was created to enforce the return of all runaway slaves to their masters. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was an addendum to that law which stated that all legal and justice representatives of the United States (specifically U.S. Marshalls) were required to return any slaves they found or be liable to a fine of up to $1,000. This law was created out of fear that if runaway slaves were left unchecked there could be a resulting rebellion within the nation. The 1850 law was created as a result of the sympathizing that some legal representatives did with runaway slaves given the nature of the situations from which they escaped.
While some Northern states did pass personal liberty lawsî which stated that a slave had the right to a trial by jury before he or she would be returned to his or her master, many states did not agree with this and refused to do so in kind. In addition, many states allowed plantation owners to deal with the situation as they saw fit rather than bring in the justice system. Individuals who were caught harboring runaway slaves would be subject to up to six months in jail and possible fines of up to $1,000 in addition to any other claims the slave’s owner wish to lay on them.
Many abolitionists publicly denounced the law and worked hard to circumvent it and have it through out. In some instances, the abolitionists spoke out strongly enough that some boldly stated they had enough support that should the law try to stop them from helping runaway slaves they would rouse their friends and supports and destroy and prison that dared to try to hold them, regardless of crime.