CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS OF SLAVES
THE SLAVE LIVED in a new world amid strange surroundings. He had been coerced and made subject to alien laws and customs. Enslaved and set apart in a lowly caste, he had little incentive for self-improvement, and seemingly little stake in the society of which he was a part.1 These facts need to be held in mind as one considers the crimes and punishments of slaves in ante-bellum Alabama. Control by force is inevitable in a social system where government by consent is impossible.
An accepted premise of the times which we are studying was that Negroes generally had a comparatively low standard of morals. It should be recognized, however, that the code they violated was a white man's code. Some deviation from that code was only to be expected.2
W. E. B. Dubois, in the Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science, contends that, under a strict slave regime, there can scarcely be such a thing as crime.3 Facts do not bear out his thesis, however. There was plenty of crime among the slaves of Alabama. Crimes of slaves did not differ greatly, either in nature or in number, from those committed by whites in the same period. Yet the law-breaking of the slave, while it caused no great anxiety except when it involved murder, rape, and revolt, always attracted special interest. This was probably due in part to the unique position which the slave occupied in Southern culture, and in part to the____________________