3.3.2 Old South (1831-1861): Slavery Approaches the Crisis



 

Free black

Slave

Free black

Slave

Delaware

22%

3%

18%

2%

Maryland

13%

19%

12%

13%

Virginia

4%

36%

4%

31%

North Carolina

3%

33%

3%

33%


Slave law:  the Mann rule moderated

State v. Negro Will – North Carolina, 1834 (1 Dev. & Bat. 121); State v. Caesar – North Carolina, 1849 (9 Iredell 391)

  • The debate whether any limits could be put on a master’s right to punish his slaves did not end with Justice Ruffin’s pronouncement in State v Mann (§ __) that there should be no limits on a master’s right to punish his slaves.  In subsequent years, Ruffin’s colleagues carved out exceptions.  In Negro Will they held that a slave, like whites, could raise self-defense as an excuse for killing an overseer who chased and shot at him.  In Caesar, the court went a step further and held that a slave who, provoked by a master’s severe beating of his friend, attacked and killed the master, was liable only for manslaughter.  Even in the post-Nat Turner era, Justices Frederick Nash and Richmond Pearson rejected Ruffin’s argument that murder must be the charge in order to deter other slave attacks.

“The prisoner is a human being, degraded indeed by slavery, but yet having ‘organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions,’ like our own.  “Does that benignant principle of the law, by which allowance is made for the infirmity of our nature … apply to a slave?? Or is he commanded, under pain of death, not to yield to these feelings and impulses of human nature, under any circumstances?  I think the principle does apply, and am not willing [to] exclud[e] it from the case of slaves.” – Chief Justice Richmond Pearson, in Caesar

 “Shall one slave be the arbiter of the quarrels witnesses by him between another slave and the whites?  … First denying their general subordination to the whites, it may be apprehended that they will end in denouncing the injustice of slavery itself, and, upon that pretext, band together to throw off their common bondage entirely.” – Justice Thomas Ruffin (dissenting), in Caesar 


Slave law:  Problems of manumission by will

Thompson v. Newlin – North Carolina, 1844 (3 Ired. Eq. 338); Thompson v. Newlin – North Carolina, 1851 (8 Ired. Eq. 32); Jincey v. Winfield’s Administrator – Virginia, 1853 (9 Gratt. 708)

  • Despite increased legal restrictions on manumission after 1800, Quakers and other southern opponents of slavery tried to keep manumission alive.  In the 1830s and 1840s, southern Quakers tried the stratagem of bequeathing their slaves to heirs on condition that the slaves be “held for their own benefit and advantage” – in other words, that they be free in all but name.  In Newlin, Justice Ruffin held that such wills could not be enforced unless they required the slaves to leave North Carolina as required by state law. 
  • Newlin, the heir, then took his slaves to Ohio and freed them outright.  Other heirs challenged his right to do so but when the case came back to North Carolina’s supreme court, Ruffin, with uncharacteristic liberalism, held that as long as the slaves stayed out of North Carolina, Newlin could free them outright if he wished.   In Jincey, Virginia’s supreme court also opted to take a relaxed rather than a strict attitude toward emancipation by will.  It held that slaves so emancipated must remain slaves long enough to ensure that all of their late master’s debts were paid, but after that they could demand their freedom at any time.
Ossian, an escaped slave hiding in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina (1856) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Slave market, Easton, Maryland - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“Unconditional submission is the general duty of the slave.  Unlimited power is, in general, the legal right of the master.  But this does not authorize the master to kill his slave, and the slave has a right to defend his life against the unlawful attempt of the master to take it.” – Justice William Gaston, in Negro Will

 


“[S]laves can only be held as property, and deeds and wills, having for their object their emancipation, or a qualified state of slavery, are against public policy, and a trust results. … The law will not allow itself to be baffled, and its policy evaded, by secret agreements, the very objects of which are to defeat the law itself.” – Justice Thomas Ruffin, in Newell I

 

Emancipation is not strictly a fit of property: It is the exoneration of a human being from the bonds which our institutions have fastened upon him, and which the beneficence f our times has authorized the master to remove.”  - Justice Richard Moncure, in Jincey
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