Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Through the Codes Darkly: Slave Law and Civil Law in Louisiana

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Through the Codes Darkly: Slave Law and Civil Law in Louisiana

Article excerpt

Through the Codes Darkly: Slave Law and Civil Law in Louisiana. By Vernon Valentine Palmer. (Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2012. Pp. xvi, 196. Paper, $49.95, ISBN 978-1-61619-326-3; cloth, $59.95, ISBN 978-1-61619-311-9.)

In Through the Codes Darkly: Slave Law and Civil Law in Louisiana, Vernon Valentine Palmer explores Louisiana's law of slavery, "its origins and authors, its transformations, its codification and Romanization, and its importance to the civilian experience and the legal history of Louisiana" (p. xiii). Palmer advances two major propositions: first, Louisiana slave law did not have its origins in Roman law, but became Roman much later in its development; and second, the law as written obscures the continuous negotiation between masters and slaves that produced the law--hence the title's reference to a famous biblical quotation (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The Code Noir of 1685 was the genesis of Louisiana's slave law. Palmer challenges those who believe the code was based, from its beginnings, on Roman law. Scholars come to this conclusion because of similarities between the two. Palmer suggests that this similitude is mostly coincidental. What became the core of the Code Noir was crafted by the governor-general and the intendant of the French Caribbean. Their provisions were drawn from the legislative enactments of local councils and addressed the actuality of slavery in the islands. Furthermore, the drafters made no mention of Roman law in the materials they sent to Paris for inclusion in the final code.

After discussing the Code Noir, Palmer "investigates one of the neglected topics of slavery, namely the role of slaves, owners, overseers and certain officials in creating customary slave norms" (p. …

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