Southern Slave Laws – Alexander Clayton, 1850 (Transcribed)

Southern Slave Laws
– Alexander Clayton, 1850

Laws regulating slavery are, in Mississippi, coeval
with its existence as a Territory and as a State.

By the constitution, the Legislature has no power to pass laws, for the emancipation of slaves, without the consent
of the owner. Nor, has it any power to prevent emigrants from bringing their slaves with thein, so long as slavery
continues to be tolerated. But the Legislature, by the same instrument, has power to prohibit the introduction of
slaves who have committed crimes. It also had power to pass laws to permit their owners to emancipate them,
saving the rights of creditors, and protecting the public from their becoming a charge. Also, to compel their masters
to treat them with humanity, or to compel their sale, if necessary, for that purpose. The same instrument provided,”
That the introduction of slaves into this State, as merchandise or for sale, shall be prohibitod from and after the 1st
of May, 1833.” This clause gave rise to much litigation, as many slaves were brought into the State, and sold on
credit contrary to its provision. The Court of Appeals of the State, decided that the constitution was, in itself, mandatory,
and amounted to a prohibition, without any legislative action, and that, being the supreme law, the courts were
obliged to to enforce it, and to declare all contracts void, which violated its provisions, On the other hand, in suits
brought in the Federal Court, the Supreme Court of the United States decided, that this clause was only directory, and
not of binding obligation of itself; that no prohibition was created by it, and that Legislative action was necessary
to make such contracts unlawful. No statute had been passed on the subject, and the question stood upon the
constitution alone. The court, at Washington City, has adhered to its decision, notwithstanding the repeated decisions
of the Mississippi Court of Appeals. In this it has departed from its own usage, established and followed invariably
in regard to the constitution and laws of every other State, when interpreted by its highest judicial tribunal. Its
reasons for so doing will not be discussed here. This provision of the constitution has been since altered, and
no such prohibition now exists; but the public mind is fast verging toward a return to the same policy.

Slaves are personal estate-are distributable as such, and are liable to be sold under execution as other chattels,
except that they are not to be so sold, when a sufficiency of other personalty to pay the debt is delivered to the
sheriff Free negroes and mulattoes are not allowed to emigrate to the State, and those already residing here,
may be required to give bond, with surety, for their good behavior, and against becoming a public charge. They
have no political franchises, and are subject to other restrictions. Slaves, executed for crime, are paid for by the
State to the owner, to the extent of half their value, but non-resident owners, are excluded from the benefit of this
provision Masters are responsible for all larcenies committed by their slaves. This provision is without limitation,
and probably pushes the liability of the master too far. The Roman law was more just and reasonable, which
held the master not to be liable, beyond the value of the slave. The emancipation of slaves by last will and
testament, is, by a recent statute, positively prohibited. Cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden by law
to be inflicted on slaves. The police regulations, in reference to slaves, are strict. In practice, however, they
are much neglected, and the discipline is lax. In general, they are a contented race, and a resort to law for
their punishment unnecessary,

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