Effects of the Fugitive Slave Law Lithograph, 1850

Theodore Kaufman, “Effect of the Fugitive Slave Law,” 1850, via Library of Congress.

Theodore Kaufman, “Effect of the Fugitive Slave Law,” 1850, via Library of Congress.

This lithograph imagines the consequences of the Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850.  Four well-dressed black men are being hunted by a party of white men, seen in the background.  There are a number of ambiguities in the image – are the black men slaves or free?  Are they trying to escape or not?  Where exactly are they?  These ambiguities speak to the concerns many abolitionists had about the law, which required free citizens to return escaped slaves to their masters.