Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

Synopsis

"This volume is the first comprehensive history of the evolving relationship between American slavery and the law from colonial times to the Civil War. As Thomas Morris clearly shows, racial slavery came to the English colonies as an institution without strict legal definitions or guidelines. Therefore, laws governing slaves and slavery had to be incorporated into the body of English common law that formed the basis of legal culture throughout the colonial South. Specifically, Morris demonstrates that there was no coherent body of law that dealt solely with slaves. Instead, more general legal rules concerning inheritance, mortgages, and transfers of property coexisted with laws pertaining only to slaves. According to Morris, southern lawmakers and judges struggled to reconcile a social order based on slavery with existing English common law (or, in Louisiana, with continental civil law). Because much was left to local interpretation, laws varied between and even within states. In addition, legal doctrine often differed from local practice. And, as Morris reveals, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, tensions mounted between the legal culture of racial slavery and the competing demands of capitalism and evangelical Christianity. Using a wide range of published and unpublished legal records from fifty countries and parishes, Morris offers a detailed and systematic analysis of cases as a means of establishing both what the doctrines concerning slavery were and how they were implemented." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The Institution of African Service

Code of Mississippi (1848)

"These two words, Negro and Slave," the Reverend Morgan Godwyn wrote in 1680, had "by custom grown Homogeneous and convertible; even as Negro and Christian, Englishman and Heathen, are by the like corrupt Custom and Partiality made Opposites." later Thomas Jefferson wrote of the "elegant symmetry of form" of whites and the "strong and disagreeable odor" of blacks. Blacks were "much inferior" in intellect, and their "griefs are transient." Jefferson believed that blacks, "whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind."

Long before, Aristotle had written that some were "natural slaves." There was a profound debate held in Valladolid, Spain, in 1550-51 between Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Bartolomé de Las Casas about whether Amerindians were such natural slaves. As inferiors, Sepulveda claimed, they needed "to be placed under the authority of civilized and virtuous princes or nations, so that they may learn . . . worthier customs and a more civilized way of life." Las Casas also accepted the Aristotelian notion but believed that Indians were more accomplished than did Sepulveda. As an alternative he suggested, only to later recant, that Africans rather than Indians ought to be enslaved.

Especially striking in early observations about Africans were whites' views on the sexuality of the males. Oliver Goldsmith argued that the African's "penis was longer and much wider" than the white's. This was a "scientific" commonplace by the end of the eighteenth century. Obsession among whites with the size of the penis has figured prominently in often testy racial relationships, but it is only one element in a larger scientific predisposition to categorize groups of people in terms of physical characteristics. This was linked in Western thought with the notion of a "Great Chain of Being." Life was part of a chain that ascended from the lowest to the highest order. Such a view, together with the Aristotelian notion of the natural slave and--finally--the perversion of the so-called curse of Ham in Christianity,

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