Laws Pertaining to Slavery

Slaves were not considered citizens in antebellum America. Before the fourteenth amendment to the national constitution (July 28, 1868), blacks held no legal rights in this country. Whites controlled politics, and used them to keep slaves and free blacks on a subordinate societal level. George M. Stroud wrote in A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery, "Slaves … had no head in the state, no name, title or register: nor could they take by purchase or descent; they had no heirs, and therefore could make no will:… whatever they acquired was their master's: they could not plead nor be pleaded for, but were excluded from all civil concerns whatsoever:…they were not entitled to the rights and considerations of matrimony, and, therefore, had no relief in the case of adultery:…they could be sold, transferred, or pawned as goods of personal estate …" (p. 31-32).

(December, 1662) ACT XII. "Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother. WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ fornication with a negro man or woman, hee or shee offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act" (Virginia Slave Laws, Virginia General Assembly).

(October, 1669) ACT 1. "An act about the causal killing of slaves. WHEREAS the only law in force for the punishment of refractory servants resisting their master, mistris or overseer cannot be inflicted upon negroes, nor the obstinancy of many of them by then violent means supprest, Be it enacted and declared by this grand assembly, if any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted by felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice (which alone makes murther felony) should induce any man to destroy his owne estate"(ibid.).


A summary of South Carolina slave Laws:

Prop VI. " The slave, being personal chattel, is at all times liable to be sold absolutely, or mortgaged or leased, at the will of his master"

Prop. XI "Slaves cannot redeem themselves, nor obtain a change of masters, though cruel treatment may have rendered such change necessary for their personal safety"

Prop. X. "Slaves being objects of property, if injured by third persons, their owners, may bring suit, and recover damages for the injury."

Prop. XI "Slaves can make no contract."

Prop. XII Slavery is heriditary and perpetual" (George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery, p. 88-89).

These laws demonstrate the absolutely inferior status of slaves – physically, socially, and politically. Although South Carolina law allowed masters to redeem payment for lost work resulting from injuries inflicted by third parties, Virginia law allowed masters to "accidentally" kill their slaves while punishing them. Taken together, these laws only constitute a small number of the injustices against antebellum blacks. There is a severity about these laws that make it clear for slaves not to cross their masters. Think about it: Envision a male slave with physical strength on his side, and then think of the fragile female slave. Although well bodied and able women did exist, the majority of the female gender had little means to fight off an attacking master. This resulted in degradation of these women by both verbal and physical abuse. Because they lacked the "power" necessary to resist, the master could torment them continually. More often, the female slave had to use her wit and charm to combat the slave institution.


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