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Historical Document
Fugitive Slave Act of 1793

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Although Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution guaranteed the right to repossess any "person held to service or labor" (a euphemism for slaves), it did not set up a mechanism for executing the law.

On February 12, 1793, the Second Congress passed "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters," that authorized the arrest or seizure of fugitives and empowered "any magistrate of a county, city or town" to rule on the matter. The act further established a fine of $500 against any person who aided a fugitive.

The act was no doubt a response to the proliferation of anti-slavery societies and to the emergence of the Underground Railroad. Like the Constitution itself, this act does not include a single mention of the words "slave" or "slavery."

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Related Entries:
The Constitution
The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act

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