On February 12, 1793, the US Congress passed into law what is known as the Fugitive Slave Act. The US Constitution already gave slave owners the right to recover their escaped property. This new law provided owners with a means by which they could do so.
This new law benefitted slave owners in several ways:
- Owners were given the right to employ agents to track down and arrest runaway slaves.
- Recaptured slaves could be brought before judges and magistrates who would order their return.
- Children born to runaway mothers would become the property of the mother’s owner.
- Anyone who aided or abided runaways, if found guilty, could be fined $500 which the owner could lay claim to.
Many states and localities passed laws to circumvent the law but as time passed it became more and more difficult. In 1850 another, and harsher fugitive slave act was passed.