Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

Physically distant from the South, and populated mostly by northerners, many with antislavery sentiments, Chicago was a relatively safe haven for fugitive slaves. After the adoption of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law by the United States Congress, the city's African American community formed a “Liberty Association” with regular patrols to subvert the legislation by preventing the seizure of blacks in the city by slaveholders and their agents. In October 1850 a slave catcher from Missouri arrived in the city and was informed by leading citizens that his safety was at risk if he stayed. Meanwhile, a slave he had brought with him to help capture the runaway also escaped. On October 21, 1850, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution condemning the new law as “cruel and unjust” and directing the city's police “not to render any assistance for the arrest of fugitive slaves.” On October 23 Senator Stephen A. Douglas, in a major speech, condemned the city council resolution. An attempt to rescind the resolution failed and on November 29, 1850, the city council reaffirmed its opposition to the law and its refusal to allow city officials to enforce it. In 1860 John Hossack was convicted in federal district court in Chicago of aiding a fugitive slave who had escaped to Ottawa, Illinois. The jury recommended mercy and Judge Thomas Drummond imposed a fine of only $100 and a sentence of 10 days in jail.