Fugitive slave catchers were people who returned escaped slaves to their owners in the United States in the mid 19th century. Slaves who managed to free themselves from their owners had yet another worry: fugitive slave catchers. The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law, the latter enacted pursuant to a specific provision contained in Article IV of the United States Constitution, created the Fugitive Slave.
Uneasy compromise and disagreement
At the time of Fugitive Slave catchers the North was moving more in the direction of abolition. The South wanted runaway slaves caught and brought back to their owners and they activated this by means of Fugitive Slave catchers. The Fugitive Slave Law stated that every citizen was responsible for helping to recover and return fugitive slaves; so any white person from the North or South could be, and was expected to be, a fugitive slave catcher. (See also Indiana in Slavery).
The Northern states, however began giving more freedom and rights to black people; as a result many slaves from the South fled north where they thought they could live with more opportunity for freedom. It was possible for them to be citizens in the North, and not live as slaves.
Helping fugitive slaves was a punishable offense
White abolitionists from the North and anyone else aiding in freeing or hiding of slaves were punished for their efforts. One account of drastic fugitive slave catching was approximately 200 U.S. Marines escorting one fugitive slave back into the custody of his owner. As laws even in the North punished both the people who helped slaves escape as well as the fugitive slaves, many fled to Canada where slavery was illegal.
The North increasingly opposed slave catching
With the North becoming increasingly opposed to the idea of fugitive slave catchers they adopted "anti-southern" views. Several northern states passed new personal liberty laws in defiance of the South's efforts to have slaves captured and returned. If the slave catcher fell in love with the slave, the slave and the slave catcher would run off together and make their own lives. Slave-catching was allowed in the North, but the new laws in the North did not make it impossible to catch fugitive slaves but it became so difficult, expensive and time-consuming that the fugitive slave catchers and the owners stopped trying.
- Murrin, Johnson & McPherson, Gerstle Rosenburg; Liberty, Equality, Power; A History of The American People: Volume 1: to 1877 (4th edition) Thomas/ Wadsworth 2006 ISBN 0006437885