February 12: U.S. Fugitive Slave Act Becomes Law on This Date in 1793

0 Posted by - February 12, 2022 - History, On This Date, SLAVERY

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: American Anti-Slavery Almanac

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a piece of legislation passed by the United States Congress in order to give effect to the Fugitive Slave Clause of the United States Constitution (Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3).

After then, the Thirteenth Amendment took over as the primary constitutional provision. Slaveholders had the legal right to retrieve fleeing slaves under the terms of prior law. The provision, which stated, “An Act addressing fugitives from justice and individuals fleeing their masters’ duty,” provided the legal foundation required to carry out the task at hand. A draft resolution was passed by the House of Representatives on February 4, 1793.

It passed by a vote of 48–7, with 14 members of Congress refraining from casting a vote. According to the “Annals of Congress,” the act was ratified on February 12, 1793, and became effective the following day. President George Washington (a slave owner himself) signed the bill into law. The Fugitive Slave Act was reinforced in 1850 as a result of heavy pressure from the slave states in the southern United States.

This required state governments and free state residents to enforce the arrest and return of fugitive slaves in accordance with the law.

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