The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860

By Stanley W. Campbell | Go to book overview

Chapter III

The Fugitive Slave Law
and
Public Opinion,
1850-1854

Effective law enforcement requires a favorable climate of public opinion. In the period between the adoption of the Compromise of 1850 and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, public opinion in the northern states toward the Fugitive Slave Law was ambiguous, but on the whole it was acquiescent. A group composed mostly of abolitionists was opposed to the law under any circumstances and vowed to resist its enforcement in any way it could. There were those who were sympathetic toward southern complaints of noncompliance with the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law and actively supported its enforcement. By far the greater majority, however, although unsympathetic with the harsh provisions of the law, was willing to acquiesce in the return of fugitive slaves to their owners in order to maintain good relations with the South and to prevent disruption of the Union.

The reaction against passage of the Fugitive Slave Law was generally confined to certain minority groups and geographical areas in

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