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"News Items"- Mass. Petitions to abolish slave-hunting

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One consequence of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was that every state now had to assist with the recapture of fugitive slaves. The act mandated the appointment of a number of new fugitive slave commissioners whose job was to track down and apprehend former slaves. Their information came from former owners, but the act's provisions did not require corroborating information. Any African-American, free or slave, could be taken on the word of a slaveowner. A number of former or freed slaves lived in Massachusetts and they feared for their freedom. Slave hunters searched for slaves in northern cities, often ignoring the civil rights of free African-Americans. This increased antislavery sentiment among the citizens of these northern states. Massachusetts, which had abolished slavery in its Constitution of 1782 (enforced by judicial decree in 1783), had long objected to slavery. Antislavery sentiment led it to stridently oppose any extension of slavery and it was in the forefront of opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act. When the act was passed it agreed reluctantly to follow the law but popular sentiment remained strong. Through the 1850s and into 1860, petition drives in towns throughout the commonwealth pressed the legislature to effectively close down part of the Fugitive Slave system by forbidding fugitive slave commissioners or their designated deputies from operating in the state.


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