Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 19RESOLUTION REGARDING THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT
November 29, 1850
The Compromise of 1850, sponsored by Henry Clay, balanced sectional conflicts. The package admitted California as a free state, fixed the western boundary of Texas at the 103rd meridian, created the territories of New Mexico and Utah and provided for their citizens to decide the slave question at the time they became states, prohibited slave trading in the District of Columbia, and provided strict fugitive slave laws. Many northern cities and states were outraged by the compromise and were particularly upset by the fugitive slave laws. In October the Chicago City Council met and denounced the fugitive slave laws as violations of the writ of habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury and passed a resolution of noncompliance. Stephen Douglas had just returned to his home in Chicago from Washington where he had been one of the strongest backers of the compromise. The next evening before a special meeting of the council, Douglas gave a brilliant three-and-a-half-hour defense of his position and he totally won over the crowd and the council which forthwith passed resolutions supporting fugitive slave laws. However, the magic of Douglas's oratory waned in his absence and the council again reversed itself on November 29.
Points to Consider
What was the "Fugitive Slave Act" to which this document refers? Was it connected to other legislation?
Why would the city council have passed such a resolution?
What kind of retaliation did the council fear?
By which means could a fugitive slave have reached Chicago?