Slavery in the United States <br> Chapter 8
It was formerly sufficient that four of the court, being a majority, should concur in opinion,* (Hen. Stat. vol. viii. p. 523) but the act of 1786 required that all of the justices silting should agree, ** (Ibid. vol. xii. p. 345.) and so the law has since remained. This necessity of unanimity on the part of those who are to determine the law as well as the fact, gives to the slave an advantage over a white person. In a court called for the examination of a white person, the decision of a majority of that court against the accused will avail as much as their unanimous opinion. So in a prosecution against a white person, if a question of law be carried to the supreme criminal tribunal, the decision of the question by a majority of that court will govern. The unanimity in the justices sitting for the trial of a slave, has been fixed by analogy to the unanimity required in a jury for the trial of a white person. But the slave has still an advantage in this. If eleven jurors think the prisoner guilty and one thinks otherwise, the effect is simply to give the accused another chance before a new jury. Whereas if four justices are against the slave and one for him, he is entirely acquitted.
If judgment of death be passed upon the slave, the law declares there shall be thirty davs at least between the time of passing judgment and the day of execution, except in cases of conspiracy, insurrection, or rebellion.* (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 429, line 32.) And in all cases where a slave is tried and convicted of any crime which may affect life, the court before which the trial is had, is directed to cause the testimony for and against every such slave to be entered on record, and a copy of the whole proceedings to be transmitted forthwith to the executive. ** (Ibid. p. 430, line 40.)
The governor is vested with the executive power, and has a general authority to grant reprieves and pardons. *** (Am. Cons. art. iv. line 4.) There is besides a special power in the executive to sell slaves under sentence of death, and take bond from the purchasers conditioned for carrying such slaves out of the United States. **** (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 430, line 39.) The sale amounts to a reprieve from the sentence of death. In this way the punishment of death is constantly commuted, where that punishment is deemed too severe for the offence of which the slave is convicted.
Many offences remain to be enumerated where the sentence of the court would be death. That sentence is pronounced upon a slave for maliciously setting fire to any barn, stable, cornhouse, or other house, or to any stack of wheat or other grain, or to any stack of hay, straw, or fodder, where injury is actually sustained by any such fire to the value of fifty dollars.* (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 588, lines 5, 6; Sup. p. 244.)
For maliciously assaulting and beating any white person, with intention, in so doing, to kill such white person. ** (Sup. Rev. Code, p. 247, line 6.)
For an attempt to ravish a white woman. *** ( Ibid. p. 281, line 3.)
For a rape actually committed. **** (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 585.)
For preparing and administering poisonous medicines with intent to murder. ***** (Hen. Stat. vol. vi. p. 105, line 3; 1 R. C. p. 427, lines 25, 6, 7. )
For consulting, plotting, and conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, or to murder any white person ; ****** ( Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 427, line 23.) and
After conviction of the offence of writing, printing, or causing to be written or printed, any book, pamphlet, or other writing, advising persons of colour within this state to make insurrection, or to rebel, or the offence of knowingly circulating or causing to be circulated any such book, pamphlet, or writing, for committing any such offence a second time. ******* (Sup. p. 247, line 7.)
In many of the cases which have been just mentioned, the sentence would probably be commuted; in others not.
The value of a slave condemned to die, who shall suffer accordingly, or before execution of the sentence, perish, escape, or be sold for transportation by the executive, is estimated by the justices triers, and paid by the commonwealth to the owner.* (Rev. Code, vol. i.. p. 430, lines 37, 41)
While the slate of Virginia has punished those slaves who have violated her laws, even at a charge upon herself to the amount of their value, she has not forgotten those who have rendered her essential service. As early as 1710 an act was passed, reciting that a negro slave named Will, belonging to Robert Ruffin of the County of Surry, was signally serviceable in discovering a conspiracy of negroes, and declaring, that as a reward for his fidelity, and to encourage such services, the said negro Will should be for ever free from his slavery, and should inhabit within the colony of Virginia if he should think fit to continue therein; and the value of the slave was directed to be paid to the owner out of the public money. ** (Hen. Stat. vol. iii, p. 537.)
In 1779 an act passed, reciting that a negro slave named Kitt, the property of Hinchia Mabry of the county of Brunswick, had rendered meritorious service in making the first discovery of several persons concerned in counterfeiting money, and it was declared that Kitt should be set free and the treasurer was required to make full compensation to his owner for him. * (Hen. Stat. vol. x. p. 115.)
In 1783 an act passed, declaring that every slave who, by the direction of his owner, had enlisted in any regiment or corps raised in this state, either as continental or state establishment, and had been received as a substitute for any free person whose duty or lot it was to serve in such regiment or corps, and had served faithfully during the term of such enlistment, or had been discharged from such service by some officer duly authorized to grant such discharge, should be completely emancipated; and if any of the said persons should be detained in servitude, the attorney-general was required to commence proceedings in their behalf. ** (Ibid. vol. xi, p. 308 )