Fugitive Slave Act of 1850  

                 A Lesson Plan for Middle School


Ø  Students will question and decide whether they would have aided fugitive slaves as they sought freedom.

Ø  Students will recognize the differing viewpoints related to the Fugitive Slave Law (F.S.L.), the choice each individual could make: obey or defy.

Ø  Students will evaluate and discuss the morality or immorality of breaking the F.S.L.



Ø  Image of "Twenty-eight Fugitives Escaping from the Eastern Shore of Maryland"

Ø  Excerpt from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, describing Eliza’s escape


Ø  Excerpt from Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Section 7

SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.



  1. Hook:  Display image of “Twenty-eight Fugitives…” and ask class what is occurring and why.  Discuss fugitive slaves and ask about motivations for both blacks and whites who would help them.
  2. Introduce Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Students individually read excerpt of Eliza’s escape from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Share with partner, what they read and what they predict will occur.  Briefly share as class.
  3. Mini-lesson on impact of fugitive crisis, Christiana, and the consequential F.S.L.
  4. Together, read Section 7 of F.S.L.
  5. As students discuss with partner the “fairness” of the law, teacher assigns each pair the role of either law abiding or law breaking United States citizen.  Give each pair 4-5 minutes to prepare a strong, multiple-point, argument defending their assigned position. 
  6. Student pairs discuss the hypothetical situation of Eliza and the F.S.L, should the law be obeyed or defied?  Allow each side to make their case-2 minutes-as the listening pair writes down notes and then must repeat what they heard.  The second pair does the same.  Then allow open discussion amongst the four.



Students will write a first person narrative as a fugitive in the 1850’s. They will need to use related Underground Railroad vocabulary (conductor, passenger, station, abolitionist, enslaved, fugitive, bounty hunter).  They must include an explanation of how the F.S.L. made their journey more dangerous for the conductors and passenger of the Underground Railroad.