There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview
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left her mistress. As she left (so we are told), she asked for the linens and clothes that she customarily used, but Dame Dumée responded with threats and "a shower of blows," so that Corinne left without them.

Collet and Mallet argued as the basis of their case that Corinne should be recognized as free since her arrival in France because of a "privilege of the nation as old as the monarchy (our kings having always had a horror of tyranny and of slavery)." They added that the Catholic religion, "which the petitioner has the happiness to profess," is also against slavery.

In conformity with the Admiralty Court's tradition of ambivalence regarding the Declaration of 1738, Corinne's petition argued both that Dame Dumée had not made the required declarations with the clerk of the Admiralty since her arrival in Paris with Corinne in 175043and that the Declaration had never been registered by the Parlement and therefore "can not have the force of law, nor destroy the original law established in the kingdom which gives freedom irrevocably to anyone who lands in France." In consequence, argued the lawyers, "in conformance with the laws and ordinances of the kingdom registered in the parlement," Corinne should be given a hearing to request her freedom, the restitution of her linens and clothes, and the payment of 500 livres in wages for five years of service to Dame and Sir Dumée in France.

The lawyer's insistence upon following only those laws registered by parlement is ironic because, as shown, the maxim granting freedom to slaves upon arrival in France was a custom, never enacted as a royal decree, and thus never registered by any parlement. Yet, by stressing that neither the Edict of 1716 nor especially the Declaration of 1738 was registered, the lawyers clearly hoped to win Corinne's freedom, not her mere confiscation by the king. The argument that Dame Dumée had not fulfilled the requirements of registering Corinne annually with the clerk of the Admiralty was probably offered as a back-up argument, in case the Admiralty judges decided that the Declaration of 1738 was valid. It seems possible, even likely, that Collet's series of cases in July 1755 were designed to test the validity of the law in the Admiralty Court of France.


Conclusion

Unlike the Admiralty Court at Nantes, which ordered Catherine to be confiscated and returned to the colonies to perform labor in the public

-54-

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