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Old 11-05-2019, 11:15 PM
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Fugitive Slave Law


In the movie Harriet, the people involved in the Underground Railroad started panicking immediately upon learning that the Fugitive Slave Law had been passed. Did the law go into effect immediately upon passage, as depicted in the movie, or did it, as with most laws, have a period of time between passage and going into effect?
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Old 11-06-2019, 02:31 AM
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Here's the text of the law. I just scanned it, but didn't see anything about an effective date, so I would assume it was immediate.
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Old 11-06-2019, 12:06 PM
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Laws may have a period of time before going into effect to give people a chance to adjust their practices. Or Congress may want to have laws take effect immediately to correct what it sees as an ongoing problem. My assumption is that the Fugitive Slave Law was one of the latter.
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Old 11-06-2019, 12:44 PM
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Federal laws are effective upon enactment unless the bill specifies otherwise (there is no delay written into the Fugitive Slave Act).
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Old 11-06-2019, 01:24 PM
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Seeing as the Act in question was fueled by anger and the perception that "the other side" was getting away with something, I would be surprised if there was any delay in its implementation.
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Old 11-07-2019, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Laws may have a period of time before going into effect to give people a chance to adjust their practices. Or Congress may want to have laws take effect immediately to correct what it sees as an ongoing problem. My assumption is that the Fugitive Slave Law was one of the latter.
Considering how contentious slavery was, and that the law got passed - I would assume the pro-slavery side was in the ascendency at the time and likely would not want to put off declaring the law any more than they had to.

Last edited by md2000; 11-07-2019 at 01:19 AM.
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Old 11-07-2019, 02:13 AM
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Considering how contentious slavery was, and that the law got passed - I would assume the pro-slavery side was in the ascendency at the time and likely would not want to put off declaring the law any more than they had to.
It was part of the Compromise of 1850, which seems to have put off the Slaveholders' Uprising by about 10 years. I'm not sure what the abolitionists got in exchange for this particular piece of legislation, but perhaps no one broke the Compromise down into that fine of detail.
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Old 11-07-2019, 08:55 AM
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The abolitionists got the end of the slave trade in Washington DC (minor) and that slavery in the new territories would be decided by the residents of the territories. Under the previous Missouri Compromise, Utah and New Mexico would be slave territories. Now it was not automatic.

California was also admitted as a free state. Southern states wanted to use the Missouri Compromise rule to split it.

So the abolitionists did get some major concessions.

Last edited by RealityChuck; 11-07-2019 at 08:55 AM.
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Old 11-08-2019, 03:34 PM
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Under the previous Missouri Compromise, Utah and New Mexico would be slave territories. Now it was not automatic.
That's Arizona and New Mexico. Utah was completely north of the Compromise line.
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Old 11-09-2019, 01:05 PM
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The abolitionists got the end of the slave trade in Washington DC (minor) and that slavery in the new territories would be decided by the residents of the territories. Under the previous Missouri Compromise, Utah and New Mexico would be slave territories. Now it was not automatic.

California was also admitted as a free state. Southern states wanted to use the Missouri Compromise rule to split it.
The application of the Missouri Compromise to the Mexican cession was unclear. The compromise as written applied only to the Louisiana Purchase, since Congress in 1820 could hardly legislate for land that it didn't govern.

Under a notional extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific--something in no way required by the law--southern California and the newly created New Mexico Territory would have been slave country; northern California and the newly created Utah Territory would have been free. The Compromise of 1850 adjusted this by admitting all of California as a free state but allowed slavery in both territories.

More important than the geography, though, was the fact that California disrupted the traditional (since the 1810's) equality between free states and slave states in the United States Senate. California was a 16th free state as against 15 slave states. Southerners regarded this as a potential disaster and Northerners as a significant gain. It would be fair to characterize Northern assessment of the Compromise as trading the admission of California for the Fugitive Slave Act, with some other minor territorial adjustments thrown into the bargain.

As so often, reality proved different; California until the Civil War elected mostly pro-Southern, pro-slavery "doughfaces" to Congress and the Senate hardly became a bastion of abolitionism.
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Old 11-10-2019, 07:15 PM
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Here's the text of the law. I just scanned it, but didn't see anything about an effective date, so I would assume it was immediate.
I'm not very familiar with American law/politics. Would that be immediate after being signed by the President?
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Old 11-10-2019, 07:43 PM
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I'm not very familiar with American law/politics. Would that be immediate after being signed by the President?
Based on what I've learned from Saturday morning cartoons, I believe the answer is Yes.
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Old 11-11-2019, 10:18 AM
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I'm not very familiar with American law/politics. Would that be immediate after being signed by the President?
Yes (though strictly speaking the White House has to send the signed bill back to Congress for publication. That could take days or even weeks back in the 1800s.
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