In 1850, a document called the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Primarily, this document dealt with the reclaiming of runaway slaves. This law allowed southerners to call upon the federal government to capture runaway slaves who had fled the South and may be living in the North. The Fugitive Slave Act and the laws that went with it only caused controversy in the North. This split the North and South. In reaction to this, some northern states passed laws forbidding state officials to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which only angered the southern states. Northerners had become aware of the hypocrisy of slavery and became resolved to end slavery. Many abolitionists started to take action to help slaves escape. This major controversy over the runaway slaves sparked the beginning of the Civil War.
Basic rights that Americans held were denied to suspected runaway slaves. One should note that even though some African Americans in the North were free, they could be considered a suspected runaway. Suspected runaway slaves, even if they were free, were denied the right to a jury and held the burden of proof; no longer where they innocent until proven guilty, they were assumed guilty. When Northerners heard that basic rights were being denied to American slaves, they wanted to end slavery immediately. America would appear to be hypocrites if they were denying the basic rights that they had fought for against Britain. This next quote is from a speech given by Frederick Douglas on the fourth of July 1852:
To him American slaves your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockeryare to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages (p. 178 People’s History, Zinn).
This address by Frederick Douglas stated exactly what the northern antislavery citizens saw in the South, hypocrisy and fraud. They knew that their oppression to slaves paralleled to the oppression they felt from Britain not too long ago. Since the South’s entire economy was based on the growing of cotton, and that slaves were needed to work the fields, it was apparent that the South would not ban slavery easily.
Before much controversy arose, many Northern citizens did not have an opinion and remained unbiased on the issue of slavery in the South. When the Slavery Act caused a commotion in the North, writers took action to help spread the message to the unbiased citizens. Publications such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and antislavery newspapers and magazines, such as “The Liberator,” became available. These articles and stories produced a greater awareness of slavery in Northerners. As time passed, the Northerners began to take sides on the issue and the majority of them were antislavery. Debates, arguments and pushes for change got the Northerners more involved and more determined to defeat the South, which now seemed like a different country. That was how divided the North and South had become due to the Fugitive Slave Act. To try and settle slavery on their own, northerners helped slaves escape the South through something called the Underground Railroad and other extreme abolitionists led revolts.
When the northern abolitionists took action, the Civil War seemed more inevitable then ever. Northerners were stealing’ slaves and mobs were forming. One may think that you cannot steal people, but to the Southerners slaves were property not human beings. Harriet Tubman, a former slave, ran an organization called the Underground Railroad in which white abolitionists would house runaway slaves and then send them further North. Slaves went house to house and hid until they were safe from Southern slave owners. Southerners were outraged at the ease the slaves were able to reach the North. The laws in the new Slavery Act had helped little. Besides slaves running away, the Southerners had to worry about extreme abolitionists who formed mobs and held protests. In May of 1854, a Boston mob of abolitionists tried to save a fugitive slave, Anthony Burns, and although they were unable to save him, they had cost the government more than 100,000 dollars. Knowing that demonstrations such as the one held for Anthony Burns would continue, the government began to try and end slavery. At this time, the Southerners, unhappy with the government’s plans to abolish slavery, threatened to secede from the Union. The Civil War was the result.
Because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, events and ideas were ignited which sparked the Civil War. The Slave Act increased awareness of the hypocrisy in the South and the immorality of slavery. Due to the action taken by Northern abolitionists and their determination to end slavery, they brought upon the Civil War in which they won and abolished slavery.