The Police des Noirs, 1776-1777
On August 9, 1777, Louis XVI issued the third and final major piece of legislation regulating the entry of black subjects to the kingdom of France. Known as the Police des Noirs, this royal declaration differed significantly from its predecessors, the Edict of October 1716, and the Declaration of December 15, 1738, by prescribing actions based on skin color alone, rather than slave status. Another important difference was that, unlike earlier laws, the Police des Noirs was registered by the Parlement of Paris. These two facts are not unrelated. In fact, Minister of the Marine Sartine deliberately advocated the use of racial language as a way to circumvent the parlement's opposition to legislation containing the word slave. As with previous legislation, the Police des Noirs was prompted by specific court cases in which slaves sued for their freedom.
Among the first cases heard by the Admiralty Court of France when it resumed its hearings on August 23, 1775, was a slave's petition for freedom. 1 This was followed by two more in 1775 and seven in 1776. 2 One of these was the case of Gabriel Pampy and Aminte Julienne v. Isaac Mendès France, which received widespread publicity the following year through its inclusion in a collection of celebrated cases. 3 The mémoire on behalf of Pampy and Julienne demonstrates the new flamboyant rhetorical form that developed out of the Maupeou crisis. At the same time, royal administrative reactions to the mémoire show just how powerful an inciter of public opinion the legal brief had become.