James C. Cobb, the Spalding Distinguished Professor of History in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, penned an essay for Time magazine about the 165-year anniversary of the Fugitive Slave Act. The law required officials and citizens of free states to assist in returning escaped slaves to their masters.
“Surely one of the most critically misguided pieces of legislation in U.S. history, it proved strikingly cruel, even for a pro-slavery measure,” Cobb wrote. “It forced the federal government to grossly overstep its bounds in defense of slavery at a time when anti-slavery sentiment was clearly on the rise, sparking outrage and defiance in the North, and, in turn, further deepening southerners’ suspicions that their rights could no longer be protected within the Union.”
In his essay, “One of American History’s Worst Laws Was Passed 165 Years Ago,” Cobb concluded that the law, rather than protecting the practice of slavery, actually helped hasten its demise.