Last week’s story focused on New England slavery and the free black community in Andover. This week we’ll focus on the anti-slavery movement.
Although slavery had been abolished in Massachusetts in 1783, the practice continued on in the Southern states for decades, creating tension between the states that would last through the Civil War.
The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1793, stating that “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”
Cotton became a major cash crop following the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. The practice of slavery grew to support the industry and by 1830 there were an estimated 2 million slaves in America.
Between 1830 and 1860, slavery was the most significant national issue, due in part to western expansion and controversy over which states would be free and which slave states. Free states fought against the admission of new slave states into the union, while slave states held to their position.
Tensions increased after the Compromise of 1850 that brought California into the union as a free state. In return for California’s free state status, Congress strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. By this Act, the federal government was now empowered to prosecute any black or white person who assisted runaways. The stiff penalty of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine enforced the law. Any white person had the right to challenge a black person not in the company of a white man. Federal agents had permission to pursue slaves into free states and apprehend suspected fugitives, even though they had been living free for years. Even ex-slaves who purchased their freedom were at risk.