In the decades leading up to the Civil War, many of the African American papers in the north as well as abolitionist papers frequently published eye witness accounts of how slaves were treated in the south.
In addition to that type of story, they also sometimes published excerpts from the various state’s legal code as it applied to slaves. These are not the complete legal documents since they focused on the specific laws and rules that would keep the injustice inherent in slavery alive in the minds of their readers.
This is part one of a two part article focused on the slavery laws of Lousiana compiled by an anonymous contributor from Maryland specifically for the National Era newspaper. This was a major endeavor in the days before Wikipedia and online legislative databases.
Information below has been abridged for the web. To view the complete article, please access the Accessible Archives database and search using the data at the end.
THE LAW OF SLAVERY IN THE STATE OF LOUISIANA – 1847.
Compiled for the National Era by a Marylander
I. THE CIVIL CODE OF LOUISIANA.
Promulgated June 20, 1825.
- ART. 35. A slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his labor; he can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire anything, but what must belong to his master.
- ART. 38. Freemen are those who have preserved their natural liberty – that is to say, who have the right of doing whatever is not forbidden by law.
- ART. 95. Free persons and slaves are incapable of contracting marriage together; the celebration of such marriages is forbidden, and the marriage is void. There is the same incapacity and the same nullity with respect to marriages contracted by free white persons with free people of color.
- ART. 155. There are in this State two classes of servants, to wit: the free servants and the slaves.
- ART. 156. Free servants are, in general, all free persons who let, hire, or engage their services to another to be employed at any work, commerce, or occupation whatever, for the benefit of him who has contracted with them, or a certain price or retribution, or upon certain conditions.
- ART. 157. There are three kinds of free servants in this State, to wit:
- Those who only hire out their services by the day, week, month, or year, in consideration of certain wages.
- Those who engage to serve for a fixed time for a certain consideration, and who are therefore considered, not as having hired out, but as having sold their services.
- Apprentices – that is, those who engaged to serve any one, in order to learn some art, trade, or profession.
OF SLAVES, &c.
- ART. 172. The rules prescribing the police and conduct to be observed with respect to slaves in this State, and the punishment of their crimes and offences, are fixed by special laws of the Legislature.
- ART. 173. The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not the 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.
- ART. 174. the slave is incapable of making any kind of contract, except those which relate to his own emancipation.
- ART. 175. All that a slave possesses belongs to his master; he possesses nothing of his own, except his peculium – that is to say, the sum of money or movable estate which his master chooses he should possess.
- ART. 176. They can transmit nothing by succession or otherwise.
- ART. 177. The slave is incapable of exercising any public office or private trust; he cannot be tutor, curator, executor, nor attorney; he cannot be a witness in either civil or criminal matters .He cannot be a party in any civil action, either as plaintiff or defendant, except when he has to claim or prove his freedom.
- ART. 178. When slaves are prosecuted for offences they have committed, notice must be given to their masters.
- ART. 179. Masters are bound by the acts of their slaves done by their command; but in case they should not have authorized or instructed them, they shall be answerable only for so much as they have benefited (jusqu’a concurrence de ce qui aura tourne a leur profit) by the transaction.
- ART. 180. The master shall be answerable for all the damages occasioned by an offence or quasi offence committed by his slave, independent of the punishment inflicted on the slave.
- ART. 181. The master may discharge himself from such responsibility by abandoning his slave to the person injured; in which case, such person shall sell such slave at public auction, in the usual form, to obtain payment of the damages and costs, and the balance, if any, shall be returned to the master.
- ART. 182. Slaves cannot marry without the consent of their masters, and their marriages do not produce any of the civil effects which result from such contract.
- ART. 183. Children born of a mother then in a state of slavery, whether married or not, follow the condition of their mother; they are consequently slaves, and belong to the master of their mother.
- ART. 184. A master may manumit his slave either by an act inter vivos, or by a disposition made in prospect of death, provided such emancipation be made with the forms and under the conditions prescribed by law.
- ART. 185. No one can emancipate his slave unless the slave has attained the age of thirty years, and has behaved well at least for four years preceding his emancipation.
- ART. 186. The slave who has saved the life of his master, his master’s wife, or one of his children, may be emancipated at any age.
- ART. 187. The master who wishes to emancipate his slave is bound to make a declaration of his intentions to the judge of the parish where he resides; the judge must order notice of it to be published during forty days and if, at the expiration of this delay, no opposition be made, he shall authorize the master to pass the act of emancipation.
- ART. 188. The act of emancipation imports an obligation, on the part of the person granting it, to provide for the subsistence of the slave emancipated, if he should be unable to support himself.
- ART. 189. An emancipation is irrevocable on the part of the master or his heirs.
- ART. 190. Any enfranchisement made in fraud of creditors, or of the portion reserved by law to forced heirs, is null and void; if the slave manumitted was specially mortgaged; but in this case the enfranchisement shall take effect, provided the slave, or any one on his behalf, shall pay the debt for which the mortgage was given.
- ART. 191. No master of slaves shall be compelled to enfranchise any slave, except in cases where the enfranchisement shall be made for services rendered to the State, and on the state paying to the master the appraised value of the manumitted slave.
- ART. 192. In like manner, no master shall be compelled to sell his slave, but in one of two cases to wit: first, when, being only co-proprietor of the slave, his co-proprietor demands the sale, in order to make partition of the property; the second, when the master shall be convicted of cruel treatment of his slave, and the judge shall deem proper to pronounce, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave shall be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of reach of the power which his master has abused.
- ART. 193. The slave who has acquired the right of being free at a future time, is from that time capable of receiving, by testament or donation. Property given or devised to him must be preserved for him, in order to be delivered to him in kind when his emancipation shall take place.
- ART. 196. The child born of a woman after she has acquired the right of being free at a future time, follows the condition of its mother, and becomes free at the time fixed for her enfranchisement, even if the mother should die before that time.
- ART. 221. The acknowledgment of an illegitimate child shall be made by a declaration executed before a notary public, in presence of two witnesses, when ever it shall not have been made in the registering of the birth or baptism of such child. No other proof of acknowledgment shall be admitted in favor of children of color.
- ART. 226. Free illegitimate children of color may also be allowed to prove their descent from a father of color only.
- ART. 230. Illegitimate children of every description may make proof of their natural maternal descent, provided the mother be not a married woman.
- ART. 322. The following persons cannot be tutors, to wit: Slaves
- ART. 492. The children of slaves and the young of animals belong to the proprietor of the mother of them, by right of accession.
- ART. 631. He who has the use of one or more slaves or animals has the right to enjoy their service for his wants and those of his family.
- ART. 945. All free persons, even minors, lunatics, persons of insane mind, and the like, may transmit their estates ab intestato, and inherit from others.
- Slaves alone are incapable of either.
- ART. 1361. Where slaves have been given the donee is not permitted to collate them in kind; he is bound to collate for them by taking less, according to the value of the slaves at the time of the donation.
- ART. 1362. Therefore, the donation of slaves contains an absolute transfer of the rights of the donor to the donee, in the slaves thus given. They are at the risk of the donee, who is bound to support their loss or deterioration, at the same time that he profits by the children born of them; and if the donee dispose, in good faith, of all or any of the slaves, the action of revendication for recovering the slaves, on the part of his co-heirs, for the collation due to them, will not be against those who are purchasers or holders of the slaves.
- ART. 1462. Slaves cannot dispose of, or receive by donation inter vivos or mortis causa, unless they have been previously and expressly enfranchised conformably to law, or unless they are expressly enfranchised by the act itself by which the donation is made to them.
- ART. 1584. The following persons are absolutely incapable of being witnesses to testaments:
1. Women, of what age soever
2. Male children who have not attained the age of sixteen years; complete.
3. Persons insane, deaf, dumb, or blind.
4. Persons whom the criminal laws declare incapable of exercising civil functions.
- ART. 1775. All persons have the capability to contract, except those whose incapacity is specially declared by law. These are – persons of insane mind, slaves, those who are interdicted, minors, or married women.
- ART. 2300. The masters of slaves are responsible for the damage occasioned by them; the master, however, has the right of abandoning his slave in discharge of that responsibility.
- ART. 2425. A sale is sometimes made of a thing to come, as of what shall accrue from an inheritance, of slaves or creatures yet unborn, or such like other things, although not yet existing.
- ART. 2454. The tradition or delivery of slaves takes place, either by real delivery made to the buyer, or the mere consent of the parties.
- ART. 2500. The latent defects of slaves and animals are divided into two classes – vices of body and vices of character.
- ART. 2502. The absolute vices of slaves are leprosy, madness, and epilepsy.
- ART. 2505. The vices of character, which give rise to the redhibition of slaves, are confined to the cases in which it is proved that the slave has committed a capital crime; or that he is addicted to theft; or that he is in the habit of running away. The slave shall be considered as being in the habit of running away when he shall gave absented himself from his master’s house twice for several days, or once more than a month.
Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: THE NATIONAL ERA
Date: August 26, 1847
Title: THE LAW OF SLAVERY IN THE STATE OF LOUISIANA – 1847
Author: A MARYLANDER.
Location: Washington, D.C.