The Laws of Slavery in Texas: Historical Documents and Essays

The Laws of Slavery in Texas: Historical Documents and Essays

The Laws of Slavery in Texas: Historical Documents and Essays

The Laws of Slavery in Texas: Historical Documents and Essays


The laws that governed the institution of slavery in early Texas were enacted over a fifty-year period in which Texas moved through incarnations as a Spanish colony, a Mexican state, an independent republic, a part of the United States, and a Confederate state. This unusual legal heritage sets Texas apart from the other slave-holding states and provides a unique opportunity to examine how slave laws were enacted and upheld as political and legal structures changed. The Laws of Slavery in Texas makes that examination possible by combining seminal historical essays with excerpts from key legal documents from the slave period and tying them together with interpretive commentary by the foremost scholar on the subject, Randolph B. Campbell.

Campbell's commentary focuses on an aspect of slave law that was particularly evident in the evolving legal system of early Texas: the dilemma that arose when human beings were treated as property. As Campbell points out, defining slaves as moveable property, or chattel, presented a serious difficulty to those who wrote and interpreted the law because, unlike any other form of property, slaves were sentient beings. They were held responsible for their crimes, and in numerous other ways statute and case law dealing with slavery recognized the humanness of the enslaved. Attempts to protect the property rights of slave owners led to increasingly restrictive laws- including laws concerning free blacks- that were difficult to uphold. The documents in this collection reveal both the roots of the dilemma and its inevitable outcome.


It is with special pride that I introduce this volume of readings. When the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society was established in 1990, the board of trustees identified several tasks that needed immediate attention: revitalizing the dormant Judicial Portrait Collection, interviewing retired justices, and preparing a narrative history of the court. With this book, we have taken the first step toward fulfilling the last of those objectives, an achievement of which our members may be justifiably proud.

Few states are favored with a history society dedicated solely to their state supreme court. This society is among about twenty such organizations in the country, and of those, it is one of the few that relies entirely on private donations. the society celebrates its twentieth anniversary on January 13, 2010, a date that links back to the morning in 1840 when the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas heard its first case. Describing the work of that court and its successors, down to the present, is a responsibility the society has shouldered on behalf of the state.

I believe you will discover that this book about antebellum laws regarding slaves and free blacks in Texas accomplishes that objective admirably. the articles reprinted here rank among the best examples of Texas legal history. Thoroughly researched, thoughtfully organized, and exceptionally well written, each article has retained its relevance and integrity across the decades. Alongside the articles are noteworthy Supreme Court cases, which offer rare glimpses into the life of the litigants, as well as fifty-four years of constitutional provisions, decrees, and laws. All together, they make up an exemplary source of primary materials and historical analyses on this issue.

We could have filled another volume—on the same topic—with all the material uncovered in the course of our research, not to mention the other types of litigation that arose between 1820 and 1870, five of the most exhilarating decades in Texas history. It is no wonder this particular half century in the court’s history . . .

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