THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE SLAVE
THE FOUNDATION of the Alabama slave code was laid while Alabama was part of the Mississippi Territory. During this period, from 1798 to 1817, legislation was enacted to govern slaves and free persons of color within the territory, and to set up a system of courts to try slaves guilty of violating the law. Legislation was also enacted to prevent the harboring, stealing, and seducing away from their owners of slaves, and to provide for the arrest and return of runaways. Owners who wished to do so were authorized by law to emancipate their slaves for meritorious service.1
After Alabama became a state in 1819, other laws were passed covering importation and sale of slaves, trial of slaves and free Negroes, emancipation, runaways, and patrols. These laws were incorporated into the Alabama Code of 1852.2 This code was supplemented by other acts passed between 1852 and 1865, and augmented by various judicial interpretations. The legal status of the slave was defined by this developing body of law.
The slave had definite trial rights under this code. As early as 1812, trial by jury in capital cases was assured to him, though not, of course, trial by a jury of his peers.
An act was passed in 1807 providing that the justices of the quorum of every county were to be justices of "Oyer and Terminer" in trials of slaves charged with treason, felony, or other crime or misdemeanor. This quorum was to consist of three justices, assisted by two justices of the peace. The trial was to be conducted without jury, and based on legal evidence only. To convict the slave, all____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Slavery in Alabama. Contributors: James Benson Sellers - Author. Publisher: University of Alabama Press. Place of publication: Tuscaloosa, AL. Publication year: 1950. Page number: 215.
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