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Extracts from the American slave code online

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Second edition of 10,000. [No. 1.] Read and Circulate.


The following are mostly abridged selections from the statutes of the slave States and of the
United States. They give hut a faint view of the cruel oppression to which the slaves are subject,
but a strong one enough, it is thought, to fill every honest heart with a deep abhorrence of the
atrocious system. Most of the important provisions here cited, though placed under the name of
only one state, prevail in nearly all the States, with slight variations in language, and come diversi-
ty in the penalties. The extracts have been made in part from Stroud's Sketch of the Slave
Laws, but chiefly from authorized editions of the Statute books referred to, found in the Philadel-
phia Law Library. As the compiler has not had access to many of the latter enactments of the
severai states, nearly all he has cited are acts of an earlier date than that of the present anti-slave-
ry movement, so that their severity cannet be ascribed to its influence.

The cardinal principle of slavery, that the slave is not to be ranked among sentient heings, but
among things — is an article of property — a chattel personal, obtains as undoubted law in all the Slave
States.* — Stroud's Sketch, p. 22.

The dominion of the master is as unlimited, as is that which is tolerated by the laws of any civilized
country, in relation to brute animals — to quadrupeds ,■ to use the word of the civil law. — lb. 24.

Slaves cannot even contract matrimony. ■(• — lb. 61.

LOUISIANA. — A slave is one who is in the power of his master, to whom he belongs. The mas-
ter may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry and his labor; he can do nothing, possess no-
thing, nor acquire any thing but what must belong to his master. — Civil Code, Art. 35.

Slaves are incapable of inheriting or transmitting property. — Civil Code, Art. 945; also Art. 175,
and Code of Practice, Art. 103.

Martin's Digest, act of June 7, 1806. Slaves shall always be reputed and considered real estate ;
shall be as such subject to be mortgaged, according to the rules prescribed by law, and they shall be
seized and sold as real estate. — Vol. I. p. 612.

Dig. Stat. See. 13. — No owner of slaves shall hire his slaves to themselves, under a penalty of $25,
for each offence. — Vol. I. p. 102.

Sect. 15. — No slave can possess any thing in his own right or dispose of the produce of his own
industry, without the consent of his master. — p. 103.

Sec. 16. — No slave can be party in a civil suit, or witness in a civil or criminal matter, against any
white person, p. 103. See also Civil Code, Art. 117, p 28.

Sec. 18. — A slave's subordination to his master is susceptible of no restriction, (except in what in-
cites to crime,) and he owes to him and all his family, respect without bounds, and absolute obedi-
ence. — p. 103.

Sec. 25. — Every slave found on horseback, without a written permission from his master, shall re-
ceive twenty-five lashes. — p. 105.

Sec. 32, — Any freeholder may seize and correct any slave found absent from his usual place of
work or residence, without some white person, and if the slave resist or try to escape, he may use
arms, and if the slave assault^ and strike him, he may kill the slave. — p. 108.

Sec. 35. — It is lawful to fire upon runaway negroes who are armed, and upon those who, when
pursued, refuse to surrender. — p. 109.

Sec. 38. — No slave may buy, sell or exchange any kind of goods, or hold any boat, or bring up for
his own use any horses or cattle, under a penalty of forfeiting the whole. — p. 110.

Sec. 7. — Slaves or free colored persons are punished with ditith for wilfully burning or destioying
any stack of produce or any building. — p. 115.

Sec. 15. — The punishment of a slave for striking a white person, shall be for the first and second
offences at the discretion of the court,§ but not extending to life or limb, and for the third offence
death i but for grievously wounding or mutilating a white person, death for the first offence : pro-
vided, if the blow or wound is given in defence of the person or property of his master, or the person
having charge of him, he is entirely justified.

Act. of Feb. 22, 1824, Sec 2.— A slave for wilfully striking his master or mistress, or the child

*In accordance with this doctrine, an net of Maryland, 1798, enumerates among articles of personal
property. " slaves, ivorking beasts, animals of any k ind. atock, furniture, plate, and so forth." — lb- '23.

fA slave is not admonished for incontinence, punished for adulter}', nor prosecuted for bigamy. • «-
torney General of Maryland, JMd. Hep. Vol. I. 56l .

i The legal meaning of assault is to offer to do personal violence.

§ A court for the trial of slaves consists of one Justice of the Peace and three freeholders, and the Jus-
tice and one freeholder, i. e. one half of the court, may convict, though the other two are for acquittal- —
Martin's Dig. I. 646.

°f e ' f her, or his white overseer, so as to cause a bruise or shedding of blood, shall be punished -with
^"'//.— p. 125.

Act of March. 6, 1P19 »^-Any person cutting or breaking any iron chain or collar used to prevent
the escape of slaves, shall he fi>ed not less than S200 nor more than $1000, and be imprisoned not
more than two years nor less than six months. — p. 64 ot the session.

MISSISSIPPI. — Chnpt.92, Sec. 110.— Penalty for any slave or free colored person exercising
the functions of a minister of the gospel, thiny-nine lashes ; but any master may permit his slave
to preach on his own premises, no slaves but his own being permitted to assemble. — Digest of Stat.
p. 770.

Act of June 18, 1822, Sec. 21. — No negro or mulatto can be a witness in any case, except against
negroes or nvilatloes. — p. 749, New Code, 372.

Sec. 25. — Any master licensing his slave to go at large and trade as a freeman, shall forfeit $50 to
the state for the literary fund.

Penalty for teaching a slave to read, imprisonment one year. For using language having a ten-
dency to promote discontent among Iree colored people, or insubordination among slaves, imprisonment
at hard labor, not less than three, nor more than twenty-one years, or death at the discretion of the
court. — L. M. Child's Appeal, p. 70.

Sec. 26. It is lawful for any person, and the duty of every sheriff, deputy-sheriff, coroner and con-
stable to apprehend any slave going at large, or hired out by him or herself, and take him or her be-
fore a Justice of the peace, who shall impose a penalty of not less than $20, nor more than $50 on the
owi er, who has permitted such slave to do so.

Sec. 32. Any negro or mulatto, for using abusive language, or lifting his hand in opposition to
any white person (except in self defence against a wanton assault.) shall, on proof of the offence by
oath of such person, receive such punishment as a justice of the peace may order, not exceeding
39 lashes.

Sec. 41. Forbids the holding of cattle, shepp or hogs by slaves, even with consent of the master,
Under penalty of forfeiture, half to the county and half to the informer.

Sec. 42. Forbids a slave keeping a dog, under penalty of twenty-five stripes : and requires any
master who permits it to pay a tine of $5. and make good all damages done by such dog.

Sec. 43. Forbids slaves cultivating cotton for their own use, and imposing a fine of §50 on the
master or overseer who permits it.

litvised Code. Everv negro or mulatto found in the State, not able to show himself entitled to
freedom, may be sold as a slave, p. 389. The owner of any plantation, on which a slave comes
without written leave from his master, and not on lawful business, may inflict ten lashes for every
such offence, p. 371.

ALABAMA. — Aiken's Digest. Tit. Slaves, &e..sec. 31. For atlemptingXo teach any free color-
ed person, or slave, to spell, read or write; a fine of not less than f250 nor more than §500 ! p. 397.
Sec. S5 and 36. Any free coloured person found with slaves in a kitchen, out-house, or negro-quar-
ter without a written permission from the master or overseer of said slaves, and any slave found with-
out such permission, with a free negro on his premises, shall receive fifteen lashes lor the first offence
and thirty-nine for each subsequent offence ; to be inflicted by master, overseer or member of any patrol
company . p. 397.

Tbulmin's Digest. No slave can be emancipated but by a special act of the Legislature, p. 623.
Act Jan. 1st, 1823. Authorises an agent to be appointed by the Governor of the state, to sell for
the benefit of the state all persons of colour brought into the United States, and w>thin the jurisdic-
tion of Alabama, contrary to the laws of Congress prohibiting the slave trade, p. 643.

GEORGIA. -Prince's Digest. Act Dec. 19, 1818. Penalty for any free person of colour (ex-
cept regularly articled seamen) coming into the state, a fine of §100, and on failure of payment to be
sold as a slave, p. 465.

Penalty for permitting a slave to labor or do business for himself, except on his master's premises.
$30 per week. p. 457.

No slave can be a party to any suit against a white man, except on claim of his freedom, and every
coloured person is presumed tn be a slave,iuntest he can prove himself free. p. 446.

Act Dec. 13, 1792. Forbids the assembling of negroes under pretence of divine worship, contrary
to the act regulating patrols, p. 342. This act provides that any justice of the peace may disperse any
assembly of slaves which may endanger the peace ; and every slave found at such meeting shall re-
ceive, without trial, 25 stripes ! p. 447.

Any person who sees more than seven men slaves without any white person, in a high road, may
whip each slave twenty lashes, p. 454.

Any slave who harbours a runaway, may suffer punishment to any extent, not affectiRg life or
limb. p. 452.

SOUTH CAROLINA.— Brevard's Digest. Slaves shall be deemed sold, taken, reputed, and ad-
judged in law to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners, and possessors, and their executors,
administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatever, vol. ii., p. 229.


Act of 1740, in the preamble, states that " many owners of slaves and other* that have the manage-
inent of them do confine them >o closely to hard labor that tbey have not tujfic eat time for natural
rest," and enacts that no slave shall he compelled to labour more than fifteen hours in the twenty-
four, from March 26th to September 25th. or fourteen in the twenty-four for the rest of the year.
Penalty, from £5 to 20. Vol. ii., p. 243.
- [Yet in several of ihe slave states, the time of work for criminals whose punishment is hard labour,
is eight hours a day, for three months, nine hours for two months, and ten for the rest of the year.]

A slave endeavouring to entice another slave to run away, if provision be prepared for the purpose
of aiding or abetting such endeavor, shall suffer death, p. 233 and 244.

Penalty for cruelly scalding or burning a slave, cutting out his tongue, putting out his eye, or depriv-
ing him of any limb, a fine of £100- For beating with a horse whip, cow-skin, switch or small stick,
or potting irons on, or imprisoning a slave, no penalty or proh bition. p. 241.

Any person who, not having lawful authority to do so, shall beat a slave, so as to disable him from
trorking. shall pay fifteen shillings a day, to the owner, for the slave's lost time, and the charge o! his
cure. p. 231. and 232.

A slave claiming his freedom may sue fir it by some friend who will act as guardian, hut if the ac-
tion be judged groundless, said guardian shall pay double cosu of suit, and such damages to the owner
as the court may decide, p. 260.

Any assembly of slaves or free coloured persons in a secret or confined place, for mental instruction,
(even if white persons are present.) is an unlawful meeting, and magistrates must disperse it. break-
ing doors if necessary, and rr.av inflict twe"ty lashes upon each slave or colored person present p.
254 and 5s

Meetings for religious worship, before sunrise, or after 9 o'clock P. M.. unless a majority are white
persons, are forbidden; and magistrates are required to disperse them. p. 261.

A slave who lets loose any boat from the place where the owner has fastened it, for ths first offence
shall receive 39 lashes, and for the second shall have r.ne ear cut off. p. 228.

James's Digest. Penalty for killing a slave, on svddtn heat or passion, or by undue correction, fine
of ?500, and imprisonment not over 6 months, p.

NORTH CAROLINA.— Haywood's Manuel. Act of 1798. Sect. 3. Enacts, that the killing of
a slave shall be punished like that of a free man : except in the case of a slave outlawed* or a slave
offering to resist his master, or a slave dying und>r moderate correction, p. 530.

Act of 1799. Any slave set free, except for meritorious servires, to be adjudged of by the county
court, may be seized by any free holder, committed to jail, and sold to the highest bidder.j p. 525.

Patrols are not liable to the master For punishing his slave, unless their conduct clearly shows malice
agcin>t t'<e mast'r. Hawk's Heps„ vol. i. p. 418.
"TENNESSEE. — Stat. Low, chap, 57. sec'l. Penalty on a master for hiring tn any slave his own
limp, a fine of not less than $1 nor more than $2 a day, holfxo the informer, p. 679.

Chap. 2. sect 102. No slave can be emancipated but on condition of immediately removing from
the state, and the person emancipating shall give bond, in a sum equal to the slave's value, to have him
removed, p. 279.

Larm of 1813. Chap. 35. In the trial of slaves, the sheriff chooses the court, which must consist
of toree Justices and twelve slaveholders to serve as jurors.

ARKANSAS. — Jiev. Slot., Sect. 4. Requires the patrol to visit all places suspected of unlawful as-
semblages of slaves ; and sect. 5, provides t* at any slave found at such assembly, or strolling about
without a pass, shall receive anv number of le&hes, at the discretion of the patrol, not exceeding twenty.
p. 604.

MISSOURI. — Laws, I. Any master may commit to jail, thereto remain, at his pleasure, any slave
who refuses to oSey him or his overseer, p. 309.

Whether a slave claiming freedom, may even commence a suit for it, may depend on the decision of
a single judge. Stroud's Sketch, p. 78. note which refers to Missouri laws I., 404.

KENTUCKY. — Dig. of Stat., act Feb. 8. 1793, sec. 5. No coloured person may keep or carry
grtin, powder, shot, ehib or other weapon, on penalty of thirty-nine lashes, and forfeiting the weapon,
which any person is authorized to take.

VIRGINIA. — Rev. Code. Any emancipated slave remaining in the state more than a year, may
be sold by the overseers of the poor, lor the benefit of the literary fund ! Vol. I. p. 436-

Any slave or free coloured person found at any school for teaching, reading or writing, by day or
night, may be whipped at the discretion of a Justice, not exceeding twenty lashes, p. 424.

Suppl.'Ber. Code. Any white person assembling with slaves, for the purpose of teaching them tD
read or write, shall be fined^ not less than 10 dollars, nor moTe than 100 dollars ; or with free colored
persons, shall be fined not more than fifty dollars, and imprisoned not more than two months, p. 245.

* A slave may be outlawed when he runs awray. conceals himself, and. to sustain life, kills a hog. or any
animal of ihe cattle kind. Haywood's Manuel p. 8*1.

t In South Carolina, any person n>ay seize such freed man and keep him as his property.

Rer- Cede. In the trial of slaves, the court consists of five justices without juries, even in capital
cases. I. p. 420.

By the revised code, seventy-one offences are punished with Death, when committed by slaves, and
by nothing more than imprisonment when by the whites. Stroud's sketch, p. 107.

Bev. Code. In the trial of slaves, the court consists of five justices without juries, even in capital
cases. I. p. 420.

MAR1 LAND. — Stat. Law, Sec. 8. Any slave for rambling in the night or riding h Tses by day
without leave, or running away, may be punished by whipping, cropping or branding in the cheek, or
otherwise, not rendering him- unfit for labour, p. 237.

Any slave convicted of petty treason, murder, or wilful burning of dwelling houses, may be senten-
ced to have the right hand cut off, to be hanged in the usual manner, the head severed from the body,
the body divided into four quarters, and the head and quarters set up in the most public place in the
country where such fact -was committed/ ! p. 190.

Act 1717, chap. 13, sec. 5. Provides that any free coloured person marrying a slave, becomes a
slave for life, except mulattoes born of white women.

DELAWARE. — Laws. More than six men slaves, meeting together, not belonging to one mas-
ter, unless on lawful business of their owners, may be whipped to the extent of twenty-one lashes each,
p. 104.

UNITED STATES. — Constitution. Thechief pro-slavery provisions of the constitution as is gene-
rally known, are 1st, that by virtue of which the slave states are represented in Congress for three-
fifths of their slaves ;* 2d, that requiring the giving up of any run away slaves to their masters; 3d,
that pledging the physical force of the whole country to suppress insurrections, i. e., attempts to gain
freedom by such means as the framers of the instrument themselves used.

Act of Frb. 12, 1793. Provides that any master or his agent may seize any person whom he claims
as a " fugitive from service," and take him before a judge of the U. S. court, or magistrate of the city
or county where he is taken, and the magistrate, on proof, in support of the claim, to his satisfaction,
must give the claimant a certificate authorising the removal of such fugitive to the state he fled from.f

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. The act of Congress incorporating Washington city, gives the
corporation power to prescribe the terms and condition on which free negroes and" mulattoes may re-
side in the city. City Laws, 6 and 11. By this authority, the city in 1827, enacted that any free
coloured person coming there to reside, should give the Mayor satisfactory evidence of his freedom, and
enter into bond with two free hold sureties, in the sum of 500 dollars, far his good conduct, to be re-
newed each year for three years ; or failing to do so, must leave the city, or be committed to the work
house, for not more than one year, and if he still refuse to go, may be again commit ed for the same
period, and so on. lb. 198.

Coloured persons residing in the city, who cannot prove their title to freedom, shall be imprisoned
as absconding slaves. lb. 198.

Coloured persons found without free papers may be arrested as runaway slaves, and after two months
notice, if no claimant appear, must be advertised ten days, and sold to pay their jail fees.t Stroud, 85, n.

The city of Washington grants a license, to trade in slaves, for profit, as agent or otherwise, for 400
dollars. City Laws, p. 249.

• By the operation of this provision, twelve slaveholding States, whose white population only equals that
of New York and Ohio, send to Congress 24 Senators and 102 Representatives, while these two States
only send 4 Senators and 59 Representatives.

t Thus it may \>r sec-n that a man may be doomed to slavery by an authority not considered sufficient to
settle a claim of.tiventy dollars.

t The prisons of the district, built with the money of the nation, are used as strrre houses of the slave-
holders 5 human merchandise. " From the statement of a keeper of a jail in Washington, it appears that in
five} cars, upwards of 450 colored persons were committed to the national prison in that city, lor safekeep-
ing ; i. e. until they could be disposed of in the course of the slave trade, besides nearly 300 who had been
taken up as runaways." Miner's speechin II Rep. in 1829.

Reader, you uphold these laws while you do nothing for their repeal. You can do much. You
can take and read the anti-slavery journals. They will give you an impartial history of the cause,
and arguments with which to convert its enemies. You can countenance and aid those who are
laboring for its promotion. You can petition against slavery ; can refuse to vote for slaveholders or
pro-slavery men, constitutions and compacts ; can abstain from products of slave labor; and can use
your social influence to spread right principles and awaken a right feeling. Be as earnest for freedom
as its foes are for slavery, and you can diffuse an anti-slavery sentiment through your whole neighbor-
hood, and merit i< the blessing of them that are ready to perish."

The Axti-Slavkry Btgle is published every Friday at Salem, Columbiana County, Ohio.
Price Si. 50 in advance. Benjamin S. Jones and J. Elizabeth Hitchcock, Editors; Jas. Barnaby, Jr.,
General Agent

Copies of this tract can be had gratis, by applying at the office of the Bugle. Subscriptions to
National A. S. Standard, Liberator, Pennsylvania Freeman, and Herald of Freedom, received at the
same place.




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