Laws passed by U.S. states in the North to counter the Fugitive Slave Acts. Such states as Indiana (1824) and Connecticut (1828) enacted laws giving escaped slaves the right to jury trials on appeal. Vermont and New York (1840) assured fugitives the right of jury trial and provided them with attorneys. Other states forbade state authorities to capture and return fugitives. After the Compromise of 1850, most Northern states enacted further guarantees of jury trials and punishment for illegal seizure. These laws were cited by proslavery interests as assaults on states' rights and as justification for secession.
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In Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that personal liberty laws were unconstitutional. The court held that the laws interfered with the Fugitive Slave Act and that while states were not compelled to enforce the federal law, they could not override it with other enactments.
The Prigg decision caused several Northern states to amend their laws, which specified that law enforcement officials and jurists refrain from doing anything about runaway slaves. The only other option left to slave catchers was to kidnap runaways, and then either return them to their owners, or force them to appear them before federal judges who were not held to state statutes.