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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER IV. PROTECTIVE STATUTES.
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Apprentices protected.—Outlawry.—Melodrama of Prue in the Swamp.—Harry the Carpenter, a Romance of Real Life.

But the question now occurs, Are there not protective statutes, the avowed object of which is the protection of the life and limb of the slave? We answer, there are; and these protective statutes are some of the most remarkable pieces of legislation extant.

That they were dictated by a spirit of humanity, charity, which hopeth all things, would lead us to hope; but no newspaper stories of bloody murders and shocking outrages convey to the mind so dreadful a picture of the numbness of public sentiment caused by slavery as these so-called protective statutes. The author copies the following from the statutes of North Carolina. Section 3d of the act passed in 1798 runs thus:

Whereas by another Act of the Assembly, passed in 1774, the killing of a slave, however wanton, cruel and deliberate, is only punishable in the first instance by imprisonment and paying the value thereof to the owner, which distinction of criminality between the murder of a white person and one who is equally a human creature, but merely of a different complexion, is disgraceful to humanity, and degrading in the highest degree to the laws and principles of a free, Christian and enlightened country, Be it enacted, &c., That if any person shall hereafter be guilty of wilfully and maliciously killing a slave, such offender shall, upon the first conviction thereof, be adjudged guilty of murder, and shall suffer the same punishment as if he had killed a free man: “Provided always, this act shall not extend to the person killing a slave outlawed by virtue of any Act of Assembly of this state, or to any slave in the act of resistance to his lawful owner or master, or to any slave dying under moderate correction.”

A law with a like proviso, except the outlawry clause, exists in Tennessee. See Caruthers and Nicholson’s Compilation, 1836, p. 676.

The language of the constitution of Georgia, art. iv., sec. 12, is as follows:

Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person, and on the like proof, except in case of insurrection by such slave, and unless such death should happen by accident in giving such slave moderate correction.—Cobb’s Dig. 1851, p. 1125.

Let now any Englishman or New Englander imagine that such laws with regard to apprentices had ever been proposed in Parliament or State Legislature under the head of protective acts;—laws which in 84so many words permit the killing of the subject in three cases, and those comprising all the acts which would generally occur under the law; namely, if the slave resist, if he be outlawed, or if he die under moderate correction.

What rule in the world will ever prove correction immoderate, if the fact that the subject dies under it is not held as proof? How many such “accidents” would have to happen in Old England or New England, before Parliament or Legislature would hear from such a protective law.

“But,” some one may ask, “what is the outlawry spoken of in this act?” The question is pertinent, and must be answered. The author has copied the following from the Revised Statutes of North Carolina, chap. cxi, sec. 22. It may be remarked in passing that the preamble to this law presents rather a new view of slavery to those who have formed their ideas from certain pictures of blissful contentment and Arcadian repose, which have been much in vogue of late.

Whereas, MANY TIMES slaves run away and be out, hid and lurking in swamps, woods, and other obscure places, killing cattle and hogs, and committing other injuries to the inhabitants of this state; in all such cases, upon intelligence of any slave or slaves lying out as aforesaid, any two justices of the peace for the county wherein such slave or slaves is or are supposed to lurk or do mischief, shall, and they are hereby empowered and required to issue proclamation against such slave or slaves (reciting his or their names, and the name or names of the owner or owners, if known), thereby requiring him or them, and every of them, forthwith to surrender him or themselves; and also to empower and require the sheriff of the said county to take such power with him as he shall think fit and necessary for going in search and pursuit of, and effectually apprehending, such outlying slave or slaves; which proclamation shall be published at the door of the court-house, and at such other places as said justices shall direct. And if any slave or slaves against whom proclamation hath been thus issued stay out, and do not immediately return home, it shall be lawful for any person or persons whatsoever to kill and destroy such slave or slaves by such ways and means as he shall think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime for the same.

What ways and means have been thought fit, in actual experience, for the destruction of the slave? What was done with the negro McIntosh, in the streets of St. Louis in open daylight, and endorsed at the next sitting of the Supreme Court of the state, as transcending the sphere of law, because it was “an act of the majority of her most respectable citizens”?[7] If these things are done in the green tree, what will be done in the dry? If these things have once been done in the open streets of St. Louis, by “a majority of her most respectable citizens,” what will be done in the lonely swamps of North Carolina, by men of the stamp of Souther and Legree?

This passage of the Revised Statutes of North Carolina is more terribly suggestive to the imagination than any particulars into which the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has thought fit to enter. Let us suppose a little melodrama quite possible to have occurred under this act of the legislature. Suppose some luckless Prue or Peg, as in the case we have just quoted, in State v. Mann, getting tired of the discipline of whipping, breaks from the overseer, clears the dogs, and gets into the swamp, and there “lies out,” as the act above graphically says. The act which we are considering says that many slaves do this, and doubtless they have their own best reasons for it. We all know what fascinating places to “lie out” in these Southern swamps are. What with alligators and moccasin snakes, mud and water, and poisonous vines, one would be apt to think the situation not particularly eligible; but still, Prue “lies out” there. Perhaps in the night some husband or brother goes to see her, taking a hog, or some animal of the plantation stock, which he has ventured his life in killing, that she may not perish with hunger. Master overseer walks up to master proprietor, and reports the accident; master proprietor mounts his horse, and assembles to his aid two justices of the peace.

In the intervals between drinking brandy and smoking cigars a proclamation is duly drawn up, summoning the contumacious Prue to surrender, and requiring sheriff of said county to take such power as he shall think fit to go in search and pursuit of said slave; which proclamation, for Prue’s further enlightenment, is solemnly published at the door of the court-house, and “at such other places as said justices shall direct.”[8] Let us suppose, now, that Prue, given over to hardness of heart and blindness of mind, pays no attention to all these means of grace, put forth to draw her to the protective shadow of the patriarchal roof. Suppose, further, as a final effort of long-suffering, and to leave her utterly without excuse, the 85worthy magistrate rides forth in full force,—man, horse, dog and gun,—to the very verge of the swamp, and there proclaims aloud the merciful mandate. Suppose that, hearing the yelping of the dogs and the proclamation of the sheriff mingled together, and the shouts of Loker, Marks, Sambo and Quimbo, and other such posse, black and white, as a sheriff can generally summon on such a hunt, this very ignorant and contumacious Prue only runs deeper into the swamp, and continues obstinately “lying out,” as aforesaid;—now she is by act of the assembly outlawed, and, in the astounding words of the act, “it shall be lawful for any person or persons whatsoever to kill and destroy her, by such ways and means as he shall think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime for the same.” What awful possibilities rise to the imagination under the fearfully suggestive clause “by such ways and means as he shall think fit!” Such ways and means as ANY man shall think fit, of any character, of any degree of fiendish barbarity!! Such a permission to kill even a dog, by “any ways and means which anybody should think fit,” never ought to stand on the law-books of a Christian nation; and yet this stands against one bearing that same humanity which Jesus Christ bore,—against one, perhaps, who, though blinded, darkened and ignorant, he will not be ashamed to own, when he shall come in the glory of his Father, and all his holy angels with him!

That this law has not been a dead letter there is sufficient proof. In 1836 the following proclamation and advertisement appeared in the “Newbern (N. C.) Spectator:”

State of North Carolina, Lenoir County.—Whereas complaint hath been this day made to us, two of the justices of the peace for the said county, by William D. Cobb, of Jones County, that two negro-slaves belonging to him, named Ben (commonly known by the name of Ben Fox) and Rigdon, have absented themselves from their said master’s service, and are lurking about in the Counties of Lenoir and Jones, committing acts of felony; these are, in the name of the state, to command the said slaves forthwith to surrender themselves, and turn home to their said master. And we do hereby also require the sheriff of said County of Lenoir to make diligent search and pursuit after the above-mentioned slaves.... And we do hereby, by virtue of an act of assembly of this state concerning servants and slaves, intimate and declare, if the said slaves do not surrender themselves and return home to their master immediately after the publication of these presents, that any person may kill or destroy said slaves by such means as he or they think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime or offence for so doing, or without incurring any penalty or forfeiture thereby.

Given under our hands and seals, this 12th of November, 1836.
B. Coleman, J. P. [Seal.]
Jas. Jones, J. P. [Seal.]

$200 Reward.—Ran away from the subscriber, about three years ago, a certain negro-man, named Ben, commonly known by the name of Ben Fox; also one other negro, by the name of Rigdon, who ran away on the 8th of this month.

I will give the reward of $100 for each of the above negroes, to be delivered to me, or confined in the jail of Lenoir or Jones County, or for the killing of them, so that I can see them.
Nov. 12, 1836.
W. D. Cobb.

That this act was not a dead letter, also, was plainly implied in the protective act first quoted. If slaves were not, as a matter of............
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