VII
THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE SLAVE

THE FOUNDATION of the Alabama slave code was laid while Alabama was part of the Mississippi Territory. During this period, from 1798 to 1817, legislation was enacted to govern slaves and free persons of color within the territory, and to set up a system of courts to try slaves guilty of violating the law. Legislation was also enacted to prevent the harboring, stealing, and seducing away from their owners of slaves, and to provide for the arrest and return of runaways. Owners who wished to do so were authorized by law to emancipate their slaves for meritorious service.1

After Alabama became a state in 1819, other laws were passed covering importation and sale of slaves, trial of slaves and free Negroes, emancipation, runaways, and patrols. These laws were incorporated into the Alabama Code of 1852.2 This code was supplemented by other acts passed between 1852 and 1865, and augmented by various judicial interpretations. The legal status of the slave was defined by this developing body of law.

The slave had definite trial rights under this code. As early as 1812, trial by jury in capital cases was assured to him, though not, of course, trial by a jury of his peers.

An act was passed in 1807 providing that the justices of the quorum of every county were to be justices of "Oyer and Terminer" in trials of slaves charged with treason, felony, or other crime or misdemeanor. This quorum was to consist of three justices, assisted by two justices of the peace. The trial was to be conducted without jury, and based on legal evidence only. To convict the slave, all

____________________
1
Toulmin, Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama ( 1823), passim.
2
Ormand, Bagley, and Goldthwaite, Code of Alabama, 1852, pp. 593-597.

-215-

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Slavery in Alabama
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Introduction ix
  • Notes xxi
  • Preface xxv
  • Acknowledgements xxvii
  • I - In the Colonial and Territorial Periods 1
  • II - Plantations and Planters 19
  • III - The Work of the Plantation: Overseer and Slave 44
  • IV - The Slave and the Plantation 81
  • V - Traffic in Slaves 141
  • VI - Hired Slave and Town Slave 195
  • VII - The Legal Status of the Slave 215
  • VIII - Crimes and Punishments of Slaves 242
  • IX - Runaways 266
  • X - The Church and the Slave 294
  • XI - The Defense of Slavery 332
  • XII - The Free Negro in Alabama Before 1865 361
  • Bibliography 399
  • Index 411
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