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

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview

The Declaration of 1738 was registered by every sovereign court of France except that of Paris. 71 By refusing to register the declarations, like the Edict of October 1716 before it, the Parlement of Paris set the stage for a series of lawsuits that began in the 1750s and continued until the Revolution.

Despite the fact that the Parlement of Paris, and consequently the Court of the Admiralty for the same jurisdiction, did not register the Declaration of 1738, the Admiralty clerk did begin to keep records of slaves who were brought to the capital as required by the declaration. 72 These records were incomplete and were the exception rather than the rule.


Conclusion

In their successful pleas for Jean Boucaux, the slave's lawyer Mallet and the procureur du roi Le Clerc du Brillet set the stage for many of the events that would unfold in the Paris courts during the remainder of the century. First, their published briefs articulated and justified the maxim that any slave who sets foot on French soil is free. This justification was primarily historical, relying on statutes and precedents to support what was essentially a mythical relationship between France and freedom. In keeping with the prevalent assumptions of their era, these lawyers credited Christianity with the elimination of Roman slavery and its transformation into serfdom.

Second, the case called the government's attention to slave owners' abuses of the Edict of 1716, prompting new, more stringent legislation in the Declaration of December 15, 1738. Like the earlier edict, the new declaration was not registered by the Parlement of Paris, nor consequently by the lower Admiralty Court of France. Yet, for the moment, the Admiralty office in Paris began to fulfill some of the requirements specified by the new law, keeping track of some of the slave owners who brought their slaves to Paris.

Boucaux's story does not end with the sentence of September 1738. Verdelin and his wife decided to appeal over the decision of the Admiralty Court directly to the king. They offered to free Boucaux outright and asked that the court's decision be overturned. Louis Ws initial response, dated September 12, 1739, approved of their request. 73 The following April, the king issued orders concerning the former slave:

-39-

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"There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Slavery in France 11
  • Conclusion 22
  • 2 - The Case of Jean Boucaux V. Verdelin 23
  • Conclusion 39
  • 3 - The Impact of the Declaration of 1738: Nantes, La Rochelle, and Paris 41
  • Conclusion 54
  • 4 - Notions of Race in the Eighteenth Century 57
  • Conclusion 70
  • 5 - Crisis: Blacks in the Capital, 1762 72
  • Conclusion 87
  • 6 - Antislavery and Antidespotism: 1760-1771 88
  • Conclusion 105
  • 7 - The Police Des Noirs, 1776-1777 106
  • Conclusion 119
  • 8 - Erosion of the Police Des Noirs 121
  • Conclusion 134
  • Epilogue 137
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 201
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