The Kansas Slave Code, Part Two

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Acts of the Bogus Legislature:

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

The Kansas Assembly did not enact a slave code under that name, but did provide special laws for governing human property within the bounds of the territory. These included making sure owners could freely whip their slaves even to death, provided they didn’t look too sadistic doing it, and castration for any black or multiracial person guilty of rape. But slaves could commit lesser crimes, often as acts of resistance.

If any slave shall commit petit larceny, or shall steal any neat cattle, sheep or hog, or be guilty of any misdemeanor, or other offense punishable under the provisions of this act only by fine or imprisonment in a county jail, or by both such fine and imprisonment, he shall, instead of such punishment, be punished, if a male, by stripes on his bare back not exceeding thirty-nine, or if a female, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding twenty-one days, or by stripes not exceeding twenty-one, at the discretion of the justice.

A slave who broke the law did not simply sin against those injured, but rather against the entire social order dedicated to his or her subjugation. The exercise of black agency constituted something worryingly close to open revolt. Its example could spread and so required aggressive measures to combat. The bountiful whips came out.

Every slave charged with the commission of any of the offences, specified in the last section, shall be tried in a summary manner before a justice of the peace in the country in which the offence is committed; and such justice (if a jury is not required, as provided for in the next section) shall hear the evidence, determine the cause, and, on conviction, pronounce sentence, and cause the same to be executed.

Peter from Louisiana

Peter from Louisiana

A slave could not have access to the courts. This implied too much equality with whites. Thus a slave received only a summary trial. The justice of the peace could opt for a jury and a more proper trial, but that remained at his discretion. The court had discretion in that, but not quite so much in laying down punishments:

When any slave shall be convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment and hard labor, the court before whom such conviction shall be had shall sentence the offender to receive on his bare back any number of stripes not exceeding thirty-nine.

One way or another, a slave must face the lash. Any misdemeanor brought it. Any felony brought it. No judge could commute the sentence. For a slave who came in contact with the justice system, so far as it went, all roads led to whipping.

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