What Were the Effects of the Underground Railroad?

Some of the effects of the Underground Railroad included slaves making it to freedom, the strengthening of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law and leaders in the north gaining a better understanding of slave conditions. While around 1,000 slaves per year were able to escape successfully, many did not.

The Underground Railroad was a system devised to help fugitive slaves escape from their owners into free states, the north and Canada, often with forged freeman papers. In some cases, white people would pretend to be the slaves’ owners to help them evade capture. The railroad operated between 1820 and 1860.

When more slaves began escaping their masters, those who were against abolition sought means of strengthening their rights to own slaves. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was strengthened to allow slaveholders to chase their slaves in free states. Although northerners began gaining an insight into the lives of slaves who escaped from the south, this did not have a strong impact on the government’s policies. For example, in 1857 a Supreme Court judge declared that each state was able to determine whether slaves were free or not, and that it would not intervene. Overall, the movement did encourage others to seek liberation.

While many slaves escaped to other areas of the U.S. and Canada, others chose to return to their owners. Some were killed, and others chose to turn back as they viewed their endeavors as too risky.