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The Laws of Slavery in Texas

Historical Documents and Essays

Edited by Randolph B. Campbell

Publication Year: 2010

The laws that governed the institution of slavery in early Texas were enacted over a fifty-year period in which Texas moved through incarnations as a Spanish colony, a Mexican state, an independent republic, a part of the United States, and a Confederate state. This unusual legal heritage sets Texas apart from the other slave-holding states and provides a unique opportunity to examine how slave laws were enacted and upheld as political and legal structures changed. The Laws of Slavery in Texas makes that examination possible by combining seminal historical essays with excerpts from key legal documents from the slave period and tying them together with interpretive commentary by the foremost scholar on the subject, Randolph B. Campbell. Campbell’s commentary focuses on an aspect of slave law that was particularly evident in the evolving legal system of early Texas: the dilemma that arose when human beings were treated as property. As Campbell points out, defining slaves as moveable property, or chattel, presented a serious difficulty to those who wrote and interpreted the law because, unlike any other form of property, slaves were sentient beings. They were held responsible for their crimes, and in numerous other ways statute and case law dealing with slavery recognized the humanness of the enslaved. Attempts to protect the property rights of slave owners led to increasingly restrictive laws—including laws concerning free blacks—that were difficult to uphold. The documents in this collection reveal both the roots of the dilemma and its inevitable outcome.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

It is with special pride that I introduce this volume of readings. When the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society was established in 1990, the board of trustees identifi ed several tasks that needed immediate att ention: revitalizing the dormant Judicial Portrait Collection, interviewing retired justices, and preparing a narrative history of the court. With this book, we have taken the first...

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Project Director's Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

The history of slavery in the United States has been the subject of hundreds of works over the years, but with the important exception of Randolph B. Campbell's 1989 groundbreaking book, the literature on the history of slavery in Texas is sparse. Th e sparseness is particularly evident in the area of slave law. Most works on the legal dimensions of slavery focus heavily on the Old South, and...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The impetus for compiling this book came from Judge Craig T. Enoch, who urged us to "find the book you have in hand." Joseph W. McKnight, director of the society's History Book Project, steered our focus toward slave laws. We also appreciate the support of our president, Stephen G. Tipps, who linked the...

A Note on Editorial Style

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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. xviii-6

The institution of African slavery as practiced in the antebellum United States depended on the ownership of humans as chattels, pieces of movable personal property. As chattels, slaves remained property for life with no legally prescribed way to earn their freedom. They had no property rights themselves but could be bought, sold, mortgaged, hired, bequeathed to heirs, and distributed in...

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pp. 7-50

Inspired by revolutionary idealism, the leaders of Mexico's independence movement often expressed antislavery sentiments. José María Morelos, for example, announced in 1813 that "slavery is forbidden forever." This sentiment influenced the new nation's leaders when they drafted a colonization law that was promulgated by Emperor Agustín de Iturbide in January 1823. The imperial colonization law did not prohibit...

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pp. 51-105

Although constitutional and statutory restrictions created by Mexican governments, both national and state, threatened the future of slavery in Texas, conflict over the institution was not an immediate cause of the Texas Revolution in 1835-1836. The centralization of Mexico under the rule of Antonio López de Santa Anna, coupled with disputes over customs duties and the generally defiant attitude of settlers in...

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pp. 107-135

Laws supporting slavery went hand in hand with laws restricting free blacks. The primary reason was simple---justifications for slavery depended heavily on a belief in the inherent inferiority of Africans. The presence of blacks living responsibly as free people undermined the argument of natural inferiority and thereby called slavery into question. Moreover, slave masters feared that free blacks would mingle...

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pp. 136-154

Th e election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in November 1860 led quickly to Texas's secession from the United States in February 1861. Over the years, many have insisted that the issue of states rights brought on secession and the war that followed. However, a reading of the explanation of disunion provided by the secession convention gives compelling evidence that the immediate and underlying cause was...


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pp. 155-176

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 177-180


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pp. 181-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780292793101
E-ISBN-10: 0292793103
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292721883
Print-ISBN-10: 0292721889

Page Count: 207
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 859671831
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Laws of Slavery in Texas

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Subject Headings

  • Slavery -- Law and legislation -- Texas -- History.
  • Slaves -- Emancipation -- Texas.
  • African Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Texas -- History.
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