Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2003 Issue

Slavery in the United States <br> Chapter 8

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By the same act, Aberdeen, a negro man slave, who had laboured a number of years in the public service at the lead mines, was emancipated. *** (Ibid. p. 309.)

In 1801 a law was passed, authorizing and requesting the governor to purchase and set free, on behalf of the commonwealth, Pharaoh, a slave, the property of Philip Sheppard, and Tom, a slave, the property of Elizabeth Sheppard, both of whom had rendered essential service.* (Sess. Acts 1800-1, p. 19. ch. 34.)

While thus much and perhaps more has been done by the commonwealth of Virginia, there is nothing to prevent individual emancipation. The general assembly has made it lawful for any person by his last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing under his hand and seal, attested and proved or acknowledged in the mode prescribed, to emancipate and set free his slaves or any of them. ** (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 433, line 53.) A slave thus emancipated cannot remain within the commonwealth as matter of right more than twelve months thereafter, unless an infant, and then not more than twelve months after attaining the age of twenty-one years. *** (Ibid. p. 436, line 61). But if the emancipation was for an act of extraordinary merit, upon proof to the county or corporation court of such act, and of the general good character and conduct of the applicant, permission maybe granted him to remain within the commonwealth. **** (Ibid. p. 436, line 62.)

A man who is in debt cannot give away his property to the prejudice of his creditors. On the same principle slaves emancipated are liable to be taken by execution to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them, before such emancipation is made. *(Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 434, line 54.) Yet where slaves are emancipated by will, and they are taken under execution to satisfy a debt of the testator, it has been decided that a sale of the persons emancipated may be prohibited, if the other estate of the testator be sufficient for the payment of his debts. ** (Dunn vs. Amy, &.c. 1 Leigh, 465. )

So a widow, who renounces her husband's will and claims under the law, is entitled to one third of the slaves whereof her husband died possessed, notwithstanding they may be emancipated by his will. Yet if part of the slaves only be emancipated, the widow's part is taken out of those which are not set free, if there be enough to make one third of the whole number whereof the husband died possessed. Or where the personal estate of the husband, after payment of debts and expenses, is sufficient to compensate the widow for the value of her third part, the personal representative may make such compensation. *** (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 435.line 60.)

If the slaves emancipated be not, in the judgment of the proper court, of sound mind and body, or be too old or too young, then they are to be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate.* (Rev. Code, vol. i. p. 434, line 55.)

Such is the code of laws for the government of the slaves of the South; and it may confidently be asked, whether, when we consider the nature of the institution, and the necessity of providing for the security of property as well as life in times of high excitement, it exhibits any disposition on the part of the master to tyrannize over his slave? Is it not, in its general features, far less severe than the law of England, with all her claims to philanthropy? If night assemblages of slaves are prohibited in the southern states, are they not equally so in Ireland at this very moment, not under penalty of stripes, but death? Are they not liable to be broken up by a military force exercising all the severities of martial law at discretion? Is it not held felony in a person to possess arms? Can any white man in England sell liquor, or exhibit public shows without a license, the omission to procure which is visited by severe penalties? Is not perjury, forgery, setting fire to houses, barns, stables, and stacks of hay or corn, punished with death and were not several persons hanged without benefit of clergy a few years since in the counties of Kent and Sussex for these offenses? Is not preparing and administering poisons, committing a rape, conspiring against the government or against the person of the king, death by the law of England? Is not shooting a partridge or snaring a hare without license, stealing a loaf of bread, and various other venial trespasses, punished by transportation? And are not various crimes punished capitally in England, which, when committed here by slaves, are only visited with stripes, branding, and loss of ears? It is true there are some offences in the code of the South, which are not so by the law of England; but it is maintained, and the comparison challenged, that, take it as a whole, the former is more humane in principle, as well as practice, than the latter. Let England, then, look at home for the exercise of her philanthropy. Enough will be found to require all her labours in behalf of the rights of humanity. It may, indeed, be urged in reply to this, that the people of England have a voice in making these laws, and in repealing them should they be considered tyrannical or severe. In theory, they certainly have; but practically, by far the greater portion of those on whom they operate most extensively, have no more agency in making or unmaking the laws than the slaves of the southern states.

Rare Book Monthly

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