Fugitive Slave Act

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Fugitive Slave Act

The westward expansion of slavery was one of the most dynamic economic and social processes going on in this country. The Industrial Revolution had changed every aspect of American life and the country’s borders spread westward with the addition of the Mexican Cession—opening new cotton fields. To maintain the original Constitutional balance of lawmaking power, Congress continued to play the compromise game in 1820 and 1850 to maintain an equal number of free and slave votes in the Senate (where every state had two votes). Following the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), a series of bills was developed that was intended to settle many of the difficulties presented by slavery and the surrounding
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The effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the subsequent developments angered abolitionists in every state. With every citizen having accountability for the return of fugitive slaves to their masters, many were forced to confront their own beliefs and act with conscience. Case after case ended up in the Supreme Court, as more and more abolitionists were refusing to comply, being arrested and imprisoned, and appealing these judicial decisions. Anti-slavery sentiments were growing everywhere. Finally, in 1854, the first state high court declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to be unconstitutional. The state of Wisconsin ruled in favor of abolitionist Sherman Booth, who had helped slave Joshua Glover escape to safety. The United States Supreme Court eventually overturned this ruling, declaring the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to be constitutional and upholding the law. This political move frustrated the abolitionists, even those who considered themselves to be less extreme.
Though initially considered to be a ‘compromise’ and intended to lessen the tensions between the North and South, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 ultimately served as a vehicle to fight against slavery. Common citizens rebelled against their supposed responsibilities to return slaves to their masters, and resisted the punishments handed down. By polarizing the nation in such a way,
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