What impact did the Fugitive Slave Law and the Dred Scott Decision have on the build-up to the Civil War?

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The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stipulated that runaway slaves were to be returned to their lawful owners, even if they were in a free state. The Act also made the Federal government responsible for finding, returning, and trying escaped slaves.

The Act caused uproar in non-slave states. Southerners in...

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The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stipulated that runaway slaves were to be returned to their lawful owners, even if they were in a free state. The Act also made the Federal government responsible for finding, returning, and trying escaped slaves.

The Act caused uproar in non-slave states. Southerners in Congress had long complained of interference by the Federal government in states' rights, yet here they were advocating a measure that openly allowed the government in Washington to interfere with the right of Northern states not to have slavery in their territory. It seemed that states' rights were a one-way street, whose benefits only applied to the South.

The anger generated by the Fugitive Slave Act was only intensified by the notorious Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). The Court's ruling affirmed that a slave was a slave, no matter where he or she happened to reside. Once again, the right of non-slave states to disallow slavery on their own territory was under attack, this time from the highest court in the land.

The Fugitive Slave Act, combined with the Dred Scott ruling, exposed the compromise on slavery as operating almost exclusively to the benefit of the slave states. It was increasingly clear to many, both in the North and the South, that the time for shabby, short-term compromises was over. Politics had failed, and it now seemed inevitable that only some kind of armed conflict could possibly decide this vexed issue once and for all.

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