The Kansas Slave Code, Part One

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Acts of the Bogus Legislature:

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Greeley’s pamphlet

I don’t know that Kansas adopted a full, dedicated slave code. If they did, I’ve yet to find a copy. The Bogus Legislature did, however, write some laws regarding the administration of slaves like those one might expect in such a code into their ordinary criminal legislation. Horace Greeley included them in his pamphlet as well. These laws come side by side with the ordinary punishments for the same crimes, in the same sections of the code.

Homicide shall be deemed excusable when committed by accident or misfortune in either of the following cases: First, in lawfully correcting a child, apprentice, servant, or slave, or in doing any other lawful act by lawful means, with usual and ordinary caution and without unlawful intent; or Second, in the heat of passion, upon any sudden or sufficient provocation, or upon sudden combat without any undue advantage being taken, and without any dangerous weapon being used, and not done in a cruel and unusual manner.

A man just had to beat his child, his apprentice, his free servant, or his slave to death sometimes. These things happen. Slaves, one imagines, received fatal beatings far more often than the others. Lawful correction would surely include at least whipping, after all. Unless a man went around proclaiming to the world that he would kill his slave by means of the lash, he might easily pass muster.

Peter from Louisiana

Peter from Louisiana

Slave states did outlaw the murder of a slave, at least in some circumstances. A few masters did go to prison for it. But it seems that their fellow slaveholders rarely saw enforcement of the law as a major imperative.

If any negro or mulatto shall take away any white female under the age of eighteen years, from her father, mother, guardian, or other person having legal charge of her person, without her consent, for the purpose of prostitution, concubinage, or marriage with him, or any other negro or mulatto, he shall, on conviction, be sentenced to castration, to be performed under the direction of the sheriff, by some skilled person, and the expense shall be adjusted, taxed, and paid as other costs.

I don’t know the comparable punishment for the same crimes by a white man, but the specification that only a black or mixed-race person received castration speaks for itself.

Greeley also includes a section not directly about slavery, wherein the punishment for kidnapping a child brings the penalties of five years’ hard labor, six months in the county jail, or a fine of five hundred dollars. He adds a note on the end referring the reader back to the punishment for doing the same to a black child: death or ten years’ hard labor. Here the defense of slavery brings with it the strange paradox that an offense against, in principle, a black child seems more grave to the law than one done to a white child. Of course, a slaveholder would answer that the black child didn’t matter but the rights of the owner did. As an attack on slave property, the offense threatened the social order in dire ways that a simple kidnapping did not.

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