Here are two related thoughts about the Fugitive Slave Clause.
State Action: It is often said that the Constitution only imposes obligations on government officials. While that may be generally true, it is not clear that it is entirely true. One famous example is the 13th Amendment, which simply prohibits slavery, rather than prohibiting the federal government or the states from imposing slavery. (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”)
It is often argued that the 13th thus prohibits private persons from participating in slave relations. While this is certainly a plausible interpretation of the Amendment, I genuinely don’t know if it is correct.
The other day, however, I came upon a couple of other clauses that may not have government action requirements. The Fugitive Slave Clause provides that “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”