The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History

By Stephen Middleton | Go to book overview
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Kidnapping

Chattel slavery was a horrific practice in the United States; it was indeed a "peculiar institution," even to slave holders. Chattel slavery denied a large segment of an entire race of people their freedom. To the others who did not become slaves, the peculiar institutional robbed them of their dignity and humanity. Laws which sanctioned slavery licensed white men to literally beat black men and women. Sometimes, slave owners punished enslaved Africans at public whipping posts. What a humiliating experience this must have been for grown-up Africans. Slavery also produced the office of the professional slave catcher. Most among their rank were unscrupulous, and they frequently seized free blacks and sold them into slavery. Legislators in most free states, including Indiana, considered manstealing a violation of state law. Hence, Indiana adopted laws to protect its free black population. Beginning in 1816, Indiana lawmakers stiffened requirements that enabled slave owners, their agents, slave catchers and free-lancers to remove alleged slaves from state. The law required them to prove ownership before a judicial officer who could approve the rendition. Without a certificate from such an official, anyone caught removing an alleged slave violated state law and could be fined or imprisoned. Indiana was not reformist on the matter of race, however. The anti- kidnapping law says more about the state's unwillingness to allow residents from another state to trample upon the laws of Indiana. The following statutes illustrate Indiana's response to the kidnapping problem.

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