Abstract

Civil law rules were adopted in Florida that granted married women property rights long before legal reforms occurred in northern states. This article analyzes white wives' property and law in Florida between 1820 and 1860. Initially, married women's property rights were inadvertently protected by treaty law and limited to women who married before 1818. Wives' right to own separate property in Florida was subsequently reconfirmed in statute and extended to include later marriages. In contrast, nonwhites generally lost the rights and property they had enjoyed under Spain's civil law in the same period. This contrast reveals that in Florida (and other southern borderlands) it was not concern for women, or simply legal precedent, but the desire to incorporate new territory and expand slavery that influenced the development of marital property law. This challenges previous histories, which have excluded the earlier acts in the Southern borderlands and emphasized those passed in the Northeast beginning in the late 1840s. While those later acts were influenced by the early woman's rights movement and by concern for families reduced to poverty during the rise of market capitalism, this case study indicates that expansion of United States territory and slavery were responsible for the earlier married women's property rights in southern borderland territories such as Florida.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 39-63
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-16
Open Access
No
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