Synopsis of the Law – Fugitive Slave Law

Section 1. United States Commissioners “authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.”

Section. 2. Commissioners for the Territories to be appointed by the Superior Court of the same.

Section. 3. United States Circuit Courts, and Superior Courts of Territories, required to enlarge the number of Commissioners, “with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor,” &c.

Section. 4. Commissioners put on the same footing with Judges of the United States Courts, with regard to enforcing the Law and its penalties.

Section. 5. United States Marshals and deputy marshals, who may refuse to act under the Law, to be fined One Thousand dollars, to the use of the claimant. If a fugitive escape from the custody of the Marshal, the Marshal to be liable for his full value. Commissioners authorized to appoint special officers, and to call out the posse comitatus, &c.

Section. 6. The claimant of any fugitive slave, or his attorney, “may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person,” either by procuring a warrant from some judge or commissioner, “or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process;” to take such fugitive before such judge or commissioner, “whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner,” and, if satisfied of the identity of the prisoner, to grant a certificate to said claimant to “remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory from whence he or she may have escaped,”—using “such reasonable force or restraint as may be necessary under the circumstances of the case.” “In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.” All molestation of the claimant, in the removal of his slave, “by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever,” to be prevented.

Section. 7. Any person obstructing the arrest of a fugitive, or attempting his or her rescue, or aiding him or her to escape, or harboring and concealing a fugitive, knowing him to be such, shall be subject to a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars, and to be imprisoned not exceeding six months, and shall also “forfeit and pay the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost.”

Section. 8. Marshals, deputies, clerks, and special officers to receive usual fees; Commissioners to receive ten dollars, if fugitive is given up to claimant; otherwise, five dollars; to be paid by claimant.

Section. 9. If claimant make affidavit that he fears a rescue of such fugitive from his possession, the officer making the arrest to retain him in custody, and “to remove him to the State whence he fled.” Said officer “to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary.” All, while so employed, be paid out of the Treasury of the United States.

Section. 10. [This Section provides an additional and wholly distinct method for the capture of a fugitive; and, it may be added, one of the loosest and most extraordinary that ever appeared on the pages of Statute book.] Any person, from whom one held to service or labor has escaped, upon making “satisfactory proof” of such escape before any court of record, or judge thereof in vacation—a record of matter so proved shall be made by such court, or judge, and also a description of the person escaping, “with such convenient certainty as may be;”—a copy of which record, duly attested, “being produced in any other State, Territory, or District,” and “being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other officer authorized,” &c. “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;” when, on satisfactory proof of identity, “he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant.” “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.”


American Anti-Slavery Society. The Fugitive Slave Law, and its Victims. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society. 1856.

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