Slave Law in Ante-Bellum America

Date
2014-09-26
Authors
Geffken, Richard
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
Slavery has been the subject of much attention in recent years for several reasons. The most obvious is the current struggle of blacks for equal rights, and the consequent interest among blacks in their heritage. Equally important is the present revival of the turn-of-the-century belief that slavery was the principle cause of the American Civil War. The new humanism, which has swept the world since World War II, is another factor contributing to the new attention being paid the American slavery. The atrocities committed against the Jews stimulated investigation into other examples of inhumanity, and a general reaction against all forms of racism and exploitation. In the light of this renewed interest, slavery has been explored from a number of vantage points. Eugene Genovese, following in the path blaxed by Ulbrich B. Phillips, has discussed slavery as an economic system. Stanley Elkins has explored the psychological repercussions of slavery. Kenneth Stampp, Richard Wade, Carl Deglar, and many others have made valuable analyses of slavery as a legal institution. No major work, however, has come forth exploring slavery as a legal institution, even though the law had an enormous effect on the condition of slaves, defining their status and the nature of the institution of slavery itself. The following study is an attempt to satisfy this gap in American slave scholarship. It will look into the origins of slave law from a legal point of view, as well as from the viewpoint of slavery's historical development. It will also study the true nature of the institution as defined by the law, demonstrating its effect upon the slave with actual court cases of the period. Finally, this study will attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable dichotomy in American legal thought, which led one half of our nation to sanctify slavery with a large body of laws while the other half came to use the law to eradicate it.
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