This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Alabama Courts and the Administration of Slavery, 1820-1865




Farnell, Daniel

Type of Degree





The examination of contemporary legal materials from the slaveholding states, particularly Alabama, shows considerable official involvement of the legislature and the courts in the management of slavery, going well beyond conventional notions of the institution of slavery as based and sustained mainly on private, self-help controls and remedies invoked by planters and their agents. Utilizing contemporary and current classifications of the standing of slaves as persons and as property as assigned by courts and scholars, statutes and cases in on the subject of criminal law and procedure are examined, with slaves as accused and victims. The inquiry then turns to civil cases, with emancipations and suits for freedom as a starting point, under which slaves attain limited status and recognition as legal persons. The discussion concludes with other civil matters, concerned with slaves as property and the rights of the slaveholding class in them, augmented by fugitive slave acts and slave patrols acting as adjuncts of the court system and slaveholders. Original, primary legal materials strongly corroborate current legal-historical studies of the institution of slavery as well as the consensus of historical scholarship spanning several generations and encompassing numerous sources and disciplines, which hold that the institution of slavery and the goals, objects, and processes of government were indivisible, mutually dependent, cooperative, and dedicated to the preservation of slavery, as expressed through the legislature and the legal system. The resulting historical evidence resolves and confirms perennial questions about the future viability of slavery in 1860 and the inevitability of the Civil War, showing that the effects of slavery were becoming more onerous and pernicious for African Americans and society as a whole over time, and the legal system, a fundamental institution of society functioning as a vehicle of slaveholding interests, was so deeply committed to the preservation of slavery that no peaceful or meaningful reform directed to the abolition of slavery was possible.