How Fugitive Slave Laws made white people rich, both past and present


by Tiara Williams

The Fugitive Slave Acts were two federal laws that permitted the capture and return of runaway slaves to their slave owners. Many of us watched the recently released 12 years a slave, the story of Solomon Northup, who was a free man forced into slavery. Most people do not understand how These laws made it “legal” for this to happen to Northup. He was lucky to get to get out of that situation alive, but there were many slaves who were not as fortunate – there were thousands of Solomon Northups who never found their way to freedom.

These acts were among the many atrocities that occurred during the Black Holocaust. It also adds fire to the debate about reparations for these traumatic experiences, which occurred just a few decades ago. Because of laws like these, whites were able to make huge profits from slaves, which have been passed down to this day. This is one of the major reasons for the wealth gap between blacks and whites

Here are 8 facts that you may not know about The Fugitive Slave Acts:

  1. The passage of act resulted in thousands of free blacks being illegally captured and sold into slavery.

  2. Southern slave owners and lawmakers were making fortunes from slavery, and with money came the power to convince Congress to pass laws on their behalf. They argued that the slave debate was driving a wedge between the north and the south—Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.

  3. Abolitionists called the act the “Bloodhound Law” because dogs were used to track runaway slaves.

  4. Officers who captured fugitive slaves received bonuses or promotions for their work. This gave them an incentive to capture blacks free or not. This can be compared to the most recent War on Drugs, where police officers are being paid large bonuses to stop, frisk and arrest mostly African American men, who are then an economic engine for private prisons. The financial incentives are nearly identical.

  5. Slave owners did not need evidence that they owned the slaves prior to the capture, they only had to supply an affidavit to a Federal marshal to capture an escaped slave. Slave owners had a huge incentive to lie because slaves allowed them to build millions of dollars in wealth through the benefits of free labor. This wealth has been transferred from one generation to the next, and now many wealthy families around the country can trace their financial holdings to the era of slavery.

  6. This did not stop leaders from helping slaves to freedom. Harriet Tubman saw this law as just another complication in her activities. She continued to free slaves, and it is said that she never lost a passenger.

  7. Many slaves found refuge in Canada. The neighboring country became a major destination for runaway slaves; the black population of Canada increased from 40,000 to 60,000 between 1850 and 1860.

  8. Any abolitionist aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. This did not stop the courageous people that continued to welcome slaves and usher them to freedom.

Financial Juneteenth lessons from this article:

1) Never believe that slavery is disconnected from the present. It wasn’t that long ago. If you take the age of your parents and multiply it by three (or four), you are probably somewhere near the slave era. This is just a few generations back.

2) Many of the atrocities that occurred during slavery, which did tremendous psychological and economic damage to African Americans, are similar to the same processes used to enslave African Americans today in the prison industrial complex. To make this point more clearly, the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution says that slavery is allowed to this day if a person has been convicted of a felony. Similar to the Fugitive Slave Acts, this implies that any African American who has a label placed on their head due to an arbitrary law (such as the crack-to-powder disparity) can then be made into a slave. So, when someone says that prison is modern day slavery, they aren’t exxaggerating: The constitution says that it is.


Community Building