Fugitive Slave Law in California

Just after the State was admitted into the Union, a fugitive slave law was passed authorizing the extradition of slaves brought into the State voluntarily by their masters. Also, the legislature of 1852 enacted a law against negroes (which the legislatures of 1853, 1854, and 1855 re-enacted), the intention being to “legalize the kidnapping of free negroes, as well as the arrest of fugitives.” The Supreme Court in California in 1852 said that slavery was still a legal institution, i. e., that slaves brought to California before 1849 were still slaves when California was admitted to the Union. (In this “Andy Slave Case” decision of 1852, Judge Murray enunciated the same doctrine relating to the status of an African that Chief Justice Taney afterwards set forth In the Dred Scott decision.) But in 1859, a case was decided reversing the former decision, and stating that only travelers or temporary visitors could lawfully hold slaves in California. Laws and judicial decisions, however, were not sufficient to prevent either the introduction or continuance of the institution ; and they did not by any means abate the aggressive sentiment of the active and able pro-slavery minority in California, which dominated the politics of the State for the first decade of its existence, and which preached the delusive doctrine of Popular Sovereignty whenever opportunity offered.

(In the Charleston Democratic Convention in April, 1860, California and Oregon were the only free States that voted for the majority report (on the platform) in which this doctrine was enunciated: "Congress has no power to abolish slavery In the Territories. . . . The Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any power to destroy or impair the right of property In slaves by any legislation whatever.)