Laws Regulating Slavery in the South

Laws Regulating Slavery in the South

These statutes were taken from chapter 4 of Howell Cobbs’ 1856 book:
A Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States

Delaware:

“Any two justices of the peace for the county, shall have jurisdiction to try and punish any slave,
for the offence of stealing, taking and carrying away, any goods, chattels, effects, bank-note,
money, bill, promissory note, check, order, bond or written contract for the payment of money,
or delivery of goods, or of receiving, or conceal-ing, any such stolen property, knowing it to
be stolen, or taken by robbery.” [In all higher crimes than those punishable by justices of the
peace, an accused slave is tried in the same manner as a free white person : the bill of indictment
against the accused must contain the allegation of his being a slave, &a. On the trial, the master
has the right to defend the slave, by employing counsel, selecting the jury, &c.]

Maryland:

“That whensoever any Negro, Indian or mulatto slave, shall hereafter be charged with any pilfering or
stealing, or any other crime or misdemeanor whereof the county court might have cognizance, it shall
and may be lawful for any one of the justices, of the provincial or county courts, upon complaint made
before him, to cause such Negro, Indian or mulatto slave, so offending, to be brought immediately before
him, or any other justice of the peace for the county where such offence is committed, who upon due
proof made against any such Negro or mulatto slave, of any of the crimes as aforesaid, such justice is
hereby authorized and empowered to award and cause to be inflicted, according to the nature of the
crime, such punishment, by whipping, as he shall think fit, not exceeding forty lashes.” “That every slave
committing any of the felonies here-inbefore mentioned [crimes involving the loss of life or limb], or any
other offence which may by law subject such slave to the pains of death, shall be committed to the sheriff
of the county where the offence shall be committed, and that at the next assizes, or county court, which
shall first happen to be held for the county where the offence shall be committed, the justices of assize,
or either of them, or county court which shall first happen, shall and may by virtue of this act, try every
such offender or of-fenders according to law, and upon the conviction of the offender or offenders, upon
his, her, or their voluntary confession, or the verdict of a jury, upon the testimony of one or more legal or
credible witness or witnesses, or even the testimony, or the evidence of other slaves, corroborated with
such pregnant circumstances as shall convince and satisfy the jury who shall try the fact of the guilt of
such slave or slaves, to give judgment according to the nature and quality of the offence.” [The laws of
Maryland, on this subject, are enforced in the District of Columbia.]

Missouri:

“Every person who shall cruelly or inhumanly torture, beat, wound or abuse any slave in his
employment, or under his charge, power or control, whether belonging to himself or another,
shall on conviction be punished by imprisonment in a county jail, not exceeding one year,
or by fine, not exceeding one thousand dollars, or by both, such fine and imprisonment..
“If any slave, or his master, in any case cognizable before a justice of the peace, shall
require a jury, the justice shall cause such jury to be summoned, sworn and empannelled,
who shall determine the facts and assess the punishment, in case of conviction; and the
justice shall enter judgment and cause the same to be executed.”

Virginia:

“The justices of every county or corporation shall be justices of oyer and terminer, for trying slaves
charged with felony ; which trials shall be by five at least, without juries, upon legal evidence, at such
times as the sheriffs or other officers shall appoint, not being less than five, nor more than ten days,
after the offenders shall have been committed to jail. No slave shall be condemned in any such case,
unless all of the justices, sitting upon his or her trial, shall agree in opinion that the prisoner is guilty,
after assigning him or her counsel, in his or her defence, whose fee, amounting to not less than five,
nor more than twenty-five dollars, at the discretion of the justices sit-ting upon said trial, shall be paid
by the owner of the slave. Provided always, That when judgment of death shall be passed upon any
such offender, there shall be thirty days at least, between the time of passing judgment and the day of
execution, except in cases of conspiracy, insurrection or rebellion.” [Other offences (not involving life or
limb), punishable by justices of the peace, by whipping, not exceeding forty stripes.] ” And in cases
when any slave or slaves shall be tried and convicted for any crime which may affect life, the court
before whom such trials shall be had, shall cause the testimony for and against every such slave to be
entered of record, and a copy of the whole proceedings to be transmitted forthwith to the executive.”

Kentucky:

“If the owner of any slave shall treat him cruelly and inhumanly, so as, in the opinion of a jury, to endanger
the life or limb of such slave, or materially to affect his health; or shall not supply his slave with sufficient
wholesome food and raiment, such slave shall be taken and sold for the benefit of the owner.” “The final
trial of a slave, for offences punished with death, shall be had in the circuit court of the county in which the
offence was committed; and he shall be tried by a jury, in the same mode and manner as free persons
are tried. “The master or owner of any slave may, on the trial of his slave for crimes or misdemeanors,
defend him. ” When any slave shall be charged with felony, the master or owner may bail such slave, in
those cases in which free persons are bailable, according to the laws reg-ulating bail in criminal cases.
“It shall be the duty of the master or owner, personal representative, or guardian of such owner, to employ
counsel to defend a slave when tried in the circuit court. If no counsel be employed, the court shall assign
counsel to defend him.” [Crimes below those denominated felony, are punished by whipping, and may
be inflicted by order of a justice of the peace, or other court before whom the offender may be tried.)

North Carolina:

“The offence of killing a slave shall be homicide, and shall partake of the same degree of guilt, when accompanied
with the like circumstances, that homicide does at common law.” “Every slave or free person of color who shall
hereafter be convicted of any felony, for which no specific punishment is prescribed by statute, and which is now
allowed the benefit of clergy, shall be imprisoned, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding two years; and in
addition to such imprisonment, the court may sentence the convict to receive one or more public whippings, or to
stand in the pillory, or if a free Negro, to pay a fine, regard being had to the circumstances of each case. When a
slave shall be apprehended or indicted for any offence, whereof the superior court has original jurisdiction, his
owner, if known, shall have ten days’ notice of the trial, in order that he may have an opportunity of defending his
slave; the cost of which notice, and all other costs attending the trial for the slave, shall be paid by the owner, if
such slave, being a free man, would be liable to the payment thereof. And if the owner refuse to pay the same,
execution in the name of the State may issue against such owner.” “When the owner of any slave who may
be tried, in virtue of this chapter, shall not be known, or cannot be ascertained, or shall reside out of the State,
the Court shall appoint counsel to appear for the prisoner, who shall be allowed the same fees as the attorney
for the State is allowed for such criminal prosecutions; after which, the trial may proceed in the same manner
as if the owner had been notified agreeably to the directions of this chapter; and the fees for the counsel, clerk
and sheriff, shall be paid by the county having cognizance of the offence, as any other county charges.”

“Whenever any slave shall be convicted before a justice of the peace of any offence, the master on behalf
of the slave may appeal to the next county or superior court, on entering into sufficient recognizance for
the slave, and giving good security, as in other cases of appeals. “The superior court shall have exclusive
original jurisdiction of all felonies and other offences committed by slaves, which, by section thirty-two, are
not assigned for trial before a justice of the peace; and the trial shall he conducted in like manner as the
trials of free men for the same offence ; and moreover, the jurors shall be slave-owners.”

South Carolina:

“That upon complaint made to any justice of the peace, of any heinous or grievous crime, committed by any slave
or slaves, as murder, burglary, robbery, burning of houses, or any other lesser crimes, as killing, or stealing any
neat or other cattle, maiming one the other, stealing of fowls, provisions, or such like trespasses, or injuries, the
said justice shall issue out his warrant for apprehending the offender or offenders, and for all persons to come
before him that can give evidence; and if upon examination, it probably appeareth that the apprehended person
is guilty, he shall commit him or them to prison, or immediately proceed to trial of the said slave or slaves, according
to the form hereafter specified, or take security for his or their forthcoming, as the case shall require, and also, to
certify to the justice next to him, the said course, and to require him, by virtue of this act, to associate himself to
him, which the said justice is here-by required to do, and they so associated are to issue their summons to three
sufficient freeholders, acquainting them with the matter, and appointing them a day, hour and place, when and
where the same shall be heard and determined, at which clay, hour and place, the said justice and freeholders shall
cause the offender and evidences to come before them, and if they on hearing the matter, (the said freeholders being
by the said justice; first sworn to judge uprightly and according to evidence,) and diligently weighing and examining
all evidences, proofs and testimonies, and in case of murder only if on violent presumption and circumstances, they
shall find such Negro or other slave or slave; guilty thereof, they shall give sentence of death, if the crime, by law,
deserves the same, and forthwith by their warrant cause immediate execution to be done, by the common or any
other executioner, in such manner as they shall think fit, the kind of death to be inflicted to be left to their judgment
and discretion ; and if the crime committed shall not deserve death, they shall then condemn and adjudge the criminal
or criminals to any other punishment, but not extending to limb or disabling him, without a particular law directing such
punishment, and shall forthwith order execution to be done accordingly.”

Tennessee:

“The master, owner, or overseer of any slave to be arraigned and tried, may appear at the trial, and make what just
defence he can for such slave or slaves, so that such defence does not relate to any formality in the proceedings
on the trial.” “Where any slave or slaves shall hereafter commit any offence which is not by law declared capital,
the justice before whom he or she is taken shall, and he is hereby authorized and empowered, forthwith to issue
subpoenas, if necessary, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and proceed immediately upon the trial of such
slave or slaves, in a summary way, and to pass sentence, and award execution. Provided, The punishment shall
extend no farther than ordering the offender to be publicly whipped, not exceeding forty lashes; and when the
offence for which any slave shall be apprehended is declared by law to be capital, such offending slave shall be
committed to jail, and stand his or her trial by a court, in the way prescribed by law.” “The circuit court, in addition
to the jurisdiction conferred by the Act to which this is a supplement, shall hereafter have exclusive original jurisdiction
of all offences committed by slaves, which are by law punishable with death; and so much of the Acts of Assembly
as requires a special court, consisting of justices, to try such cases in the first instance, be repealed. In all such
cases, the trials of slaves shall be in all respects conducted and disposed of in the same manner, and under the
same laws and rules that now govern such cases after they are taken into the circuit courts by appeal. Provided,
that such slave or slaves shall not be tried before a jury until an indictment or presentment is first found by the
grand jury. And provided, that if the master of the slave so tried does not employ counsel in his defence, the
court shall assign him counsel, and shall fix the amount of his fee; and such fee shall be recoverable by
such counsel against the owner or owners of such slave, by action of debt. And provided, That the owner
of said slave shall not be liable to pay the costs of said prosecution.”

Georgia:

“Any person who shall maliciously dismember, or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be
inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person; and on the like proof, except in case of
insurrection by such slave, and unless such death should happen by accident, in giving such slave moderate correction.
“In all cases, the killing or maiming of a slave, or person of color, or Indian, in amity with the United States, shall be
put upon the same footing of criminality as the killing or maiming of a white person. If any person or persons whomsoever
shall maliciously deprive a slave or slaves of life, he, she, or they so offending shall be prosecuted by indictment in
the superior court of the county in which such offence may have been committed, in like manner as if the person or
persons charged had perpetrated a like offence on any free white person or persons whomsoever; and on all such
trials the same rules of law and evidence shall obtain, as on other trials for murder. And if, upon trial for such offence,
any person or persons shall be found guilty of murder, he, she, or they shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted
in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person; that is to say, shall be hanged, without the benefit
of clergy. And if found guilty of manslaughter, shall be punished by branding [changed to penitentiary imprisonment],
in like manner as is usual in cases where any person or persons is or are convicted of manslaughter, committed on a
free white person or persons, except in case of insurrection by such slave, and unless such death should happen by
accident, in giving such slave moderate correction.” [The trial of a slave, in cases in which his life is involved, is had
in the same court, and conducted in the same manner, as that of a white person. The master is allowed to appear on
the part of his slave, employ counsel, select the jury, arrange the evidence, &me.] “Any owner or employer of a slave
or slaves, who shall cruelly treat such slave or slaves, by unnecessary and excessive whipping, by withholding proper
food and sustenance, by requiring greater labor from such slave or slaves than he, she, or they are able to perform;
or by not affording proper clothing, whereby the health of such slave or slaves may be injured and impaired; or cause,
or permit the same to be done; every such owner or employer shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction,
shall be punished by fine, or imprisonment in the common jail of the county, or both, at the discretion of the court.”

Florida:

“In the trial of any slave in the circuit court, the same rules and regulations shall be observed as are observed in
the trial of free persons.” “It shall be the duty of the courts of this State, charged with the trial of slaves, to assign
and appoint counsel to defend any slave tried before them, in all cases where the master of any slave, his agent
or guardian, fails or refuses to employ an attorney to defend such slave; and all such attorneys shall receive for
their services, from the master, owner, or guardian of such slave, any sum that the court shall deem reasonable
-not exceeding fifty dollars-which shall be recoverable as other debts of like magnitude.” [In all cases below
those denominated capital, justices of the peace preside. Punishment inflicted by them extends to whipping.”

Alabama:

“The Constitution provides, that, “They [the General Assembly] shall have full power to oblige the owners of slaves to
treat them with humanity ; to provide. for them necessary food and clothing; to abstain from all injuries to them, extending
to life or limb; and in case of their neglect or refusal, to have such slave or slaves sold for the benefit of the owner or
owners.” The Constitution also provides, that, “In the prosecution of slaves for crimes of a higher grade than petit larceny,
the General Assembly shall have no power to deprive them of an impartial trial by a petit jury.” A farther constitutional
provision is, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember, or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as
would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person, and on the like proof; except in
case of insurrection of such slave.” A provisional statute is, “That whenever any slave shall be brought before a justice
of the county court, or of the peace, for the commission of any offence against the penal laws of this State, of a higher
grade than petit larceny ; if the justice after examination, should think there arc just and probable grounds of suspicion
of the guilt or criminality of the offender, he shall immediately commit such slave to jail; and he is hereby empowered
and directed to issue a summons to the sheriff of the county, to summons the justices of the county court, and a jury of
twelve good and lawful men of the vicinage, to meet at the court-house of said county ; neither of whom shall be master
of said slave, or related to the master, or prosecutor of such slave, in any degree, which should be a cause of challenge
to a juryman, in a trial of a free per-son. And such court and jury shall proceed in the trial of such slave, without presentment
or indictment. And no slave shall be condemned, unless he be found guilty by a jury, after allowing him or her counsel,
in his or her defence, whose fee, amounting to ten dollars, shall be paid by the owner of the slave : provided always,
that when judgment of death shall be passed upon such of-fender, there shall be thirty days, at least, between the
time of passing judgment and the day of execution ; ex-cept in cases of conspiracy, insurrection, or rebellion.”

Another statutory provision is, “That no cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted on any slave within this
territory. And any owner of slaves authorizing or permitting the same, shall on conviction thereof, before any
court having cognizance, be fined according to the nature of the offence, and at the discretion of the court, in a sum
not exceeding two hundred dollars, to and for the use of this territory.” “That the trial of a slave for felony, or any
capital offence, shall be in all respects similar to the trial of a free citizen or inhabitant, for the like offence; except
that the jury, or two-thirds at least thereof, empannelled for such trial, shall be composed of owners of slaves.”

Mississippi:

“No cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted on any slave within this State. And any master, or other person, entitled
to the service of any slave, who shall inflict such cruel or unusual punishment, or shall authorize or permit the same to be
inflicted, shall on conviction thereof, before any court having cognizance, be fined according to the magnitude of the
offence, at the discretion of the court, in any sum not exceeding five hundred dol-lars, to be paid into the treasury of the
State, for the use and benefit of the literary fund. “The justices of every county or corporation court in this State, shall be
justices of oyer and terminer, for the trial of slaves charged with felony ; which trials shall be at the court-house of the
proper county, and at such time as the sheriff or other officer, whose duty it shall be to summon such court, shall appoint;
unless the same be at a stated term of the county or corporation court, not being less than live, nor more than ten days
after the offender or offenders shall have been committed to jail. And when any slave or slaves shall be committed for any
offence, which by this act is declared to be capital, and punishable with death, it shall be the duty of such sheriff or other
officer, to summon twenty-four good and lawful men of the vicinage, twelve of whom at least shall be slave holders, in
their own right; and neither the master of such slave or slaves, or any person related to him, or to the prosecutor, shall
be one of the persons so summoned, to be and appear at the time and place when and where the said court shall be
convened, for the trial of such offender or offenders; from which number a jury of twelve shall be selected, sworn
and empannelled; and such court and jury shall proceed to the trial of the slave or slaves charged as aforesaid, upon
legal evidence, without presentment or indictment, and on conviction by the verdict of a jury, the court shall proceed
to pass sentence, and order execution thereof, according to law. “In the trial of slaves, the right of challenge of jurors
for cause, shall be allowed to both parties, according to the rules of law prescribed in other cases of trial by jury, and
a peremptory challenge on the part of the prisoner, to the number of six, in capital cases. “In the trial of any slave or
slaves, for a capital crime, the court shall have power to grant new trials, according to the rules established in other
criminal cases.” [Counsel for the accused must be appointed by the court.] “When judgment of death shall be passed
upon any slave or slaves, there shall be twenty days at least between the time of passing judgment, and the day
of execution, except in eases of conspiracy, insurrection or rebellion.”

Louisiana:

“When slaves are prosecuted in the name of the State, for offences they have committed, notice must be
given to their masters.” Liu this State when a master is convicted of cruel treatment of his slaves, the judge
may pronounce, in addition to the penalty established by law, in such eases, that the slave shall be sold to some
more humane owner, “in order to place him out of the reach of the power which his master has abused. “The
slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual
rigor, nor so as to maim or mutilate him, or to expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to cause his death.”

Arkansas:

The Constitution provides that the Legislature shall have power “to oblige the owner of any slave or slaves,
to treat them with humanity: and in the prosecution of slaves for any crime, they shall not be deprived of
an impartial jury; and any slave who shall be convicted of a capital offence, shall suffer the same degree of
punishment as would be inflicted on a free white person, and no other; and courts of justice before whom
slaves shall be tried, shall assign them counsel for their defence.” “In all eases of felony, the slave committing
the same shall be tried in the same court, and the same rules of evidence observed, as in cases of white
persons committing the like offence; excepting that slaves may be witnesses for and against slaves.”

Texas:

“The Constitution provides that the Legislature “shall have full power to pass laws, which will oblige the owners of
slaves to treat them with humanity; to provide for their necessary food and clothing; to abstain from all injuries to
them, extending to life or limb; and in case of their neglect or refusal to comply with the directions of such laws, to have
such slave or slaves taken from such owner, and sold for the benefit of such owner or owners.” Another constitutional
provision is-In the prosecution of slaves for crimes of a higher grade than petit larceny, the legislature shall have no
power to deprive them of an impartial trial by a petit jury.” And further-“Any person who shall maliciously dismember,
or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted iu case the like offence had been committed
upon a free white person, and on the like proof-except in case of insurrection of such slaves.” “That [all crimes, below
those denominated capital known to the common law of England, committed by slaves, shall be triable before the county
courts, and on conviction shall be punished at the discretion of said courts, so as not to extend to life or limb.” [Cases of
the kind here mentioned are tried by juries.] [Crimes of a higher degree than those triable in the county courts, are tried
in the district courts; these trials are by juries. In such cases, if the owner refuses or neglects to employ counsel, counsel
is assigned the accused by the court. The proceedings are the same as in cases of white persons.] “That if any person or
persons shall murder any slave, or so cruelly treat the same as to cause death, the same shall be felony, and punished
as in other cases of murder. “That if any person or persons shall cruelly or unreasonably treat or abuse any slave
belonging to him, her, or them, or to another or others, he, she, or they, and each of them, shall be liable to indictment
or presentment, as for a misdemeanor, in the district court, and on conviction thereof, may be fined for each and every
such offence, not less than twenty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.” There is no branch of the law,
particularly in the older States, that requires revision more than those on the subject of slaves. Many obsolete
laws are permitted to remain upon the statute-books, which greatly embarrass the subject, so that it becomes,
in some instance; almost, perhaps to some, entirely imcomprehinsible.”

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