This site chronicles the progress of my Honors thesis for the History Department at Dickinson College, 2019-2020. The controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 called for a drastic expansion of the Federal government’s enforcement apparatus, increasing the number of Circuit Court officers known as U.S. Commissioners, who would be equipped with new powers to handle fugitive slave cases. Yet of the more than 300 commissioners in office during the period of the law’s operation (1850-1864), only about 30 ever presided over a fugitive case. While scholars have explored resistance to the law in detail, comparatively little is known about its enforcement. This research project will attempt to reveal new insights into how the 1850 law functioned through a study of its chief enforcers, illuminating the mechanisms of enforcement and shedding new light on the effectiveness of anti-slavery resistance.
Cooper Wingert, Dickinson College