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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER V. PROTECTIVE ACTS OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND LOUISIANA.—THE IRON COLLAR OF LOUISIANA AND NORTH C
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CHAPTER V. PROTECTIVE ACTS OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND LOUISIANA.—THE IRON COLLAR OF LOUISIANA AND NORTH C
PROTECTIVE ACTS OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND LOUISIANA.—THE IRON COLLAR OF LOUISIANA AND NORTH CAROLINA.

Thus far by way of considering the protective acts of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Certain miscellaneous protective acts of various other states will now be cited, merely as specimens of the spirit of legislation.
Stroud, p. 39. 2 Brevard’s Digest, p. 241.

In South Carolina, the act of 1740 punished the wilful, deliberate murder of a slave by disfranchisement, and by a fine of seven hundred pounds current money, or, in default of payment, imprisonment for seven years. But the wilful murder of a slave, in the sense contemplated in this law, is a crime which would not often occur. The kind of murder which was most frequent among masters or overseers was guarded against by another section of the same act,—how adequately the reader will judge for himself, from the following quotation:
Stroud’s Sketch, p. 40. 2 Brevard’s Digest, 241. James’ Digest, 392.

If any person shall, on a sudden heat or passion, or by undue correction, kill his own slave, or the slave of any other person, he shall forfeit the sum of three hundred and fifty pounds current money.

In 1821 the act punishing the wilful murder of the slave only with fine or imprisonment was mainly repealed, and it was enacted that such crime should be punished by death; but the latter section, which relates to killing the slave in sudden heat or passion, or by undue correction, has been altered only by diminishing the pecuniary penalty to a fine of five hundred dollars, authorizing also imprisonment for six months.

The next protective statute to be noticed is the following from the act of 1740, South Carolina.
Stroud, p. 40. 2 Brevard’s Digest, 241.

In case any person shall wilfully cut out the tongue, put out the eye, * * * or cruelly scald, burn, or deprive any slave of any limb, or member, or shall inflict any other cruel punishment, other than by whipping or beating with a horse-whip, cowskin, switch 88or small stick, or by putting irons on, or confining or imprisoning such slave, every such person shall, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money.

The language of this law, like many other of these protective enactments, is exceedingly suggestive; the first suggestion that occurs is, What sort of an institution, and what sort of a state of society is it, that called out a law worded like this? Laws are generally not made against practices that do not exist, and exist with some degree of frequency.

The advocates of slavery are very fond of comparing it to the apprentice system of England and America. Let us suppose that in the British Parliament, or in a New England Legislature, the following law is proposed, under the title of An Act for the Protection of Apprentices, &c. &c.

In case any person shall wilfully cut out the tongue, put out the eye, or cruelly scald, burn, or deprive any apprentice of any limb or member, or shall inflict any other cruel punishment, other than by whipping or beating with a horse-whip, cowskin, switch or small stick, or by putting irons on or confining or imprisoning such apprentice, every such person shall, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money.

What a sensation such a proposed law would make in England may be best left for Englishmen to say; but in New England it would simply constitute the proposer a candidate for Bedlam. Yet that such a statute is necessary in South Carolina is evident enough, if we reflect that, because there is no such statute in Virginia, it has been decided that a wretch who perpetrates all these enormities on a slave cannot even be indicted for it, unless the slave dies.

But let us look further:—What is to be the penalty when any of these fiendish things are done?

Why, the man forfeits a hundred pounds, current money. Surely he ought to pay as much as that for doing so very unnecessary an act, when the Legislature bountifully allows him to inflict any torture which revengeful ingenuity could devise, by means of horse-whip, cowskin, switch or small stick, or putting irons on, or confining and imprisoning. One would surely think that here was sufficient scope and variety of legalized means of torture to satisfy any ordinary appetite for vengeance. It would appear decidedly that any more piquant varieties of agony ought to be an extra charge. The advocates of slavery are fond of comparing the situation of the slave with that of the English laborer. We are not aware that the English laborer has been so unfortunate as to be protected by any enactment like this, since the days of villeinage.
Stroud’s Sketch, p. 41. 1 Mar. Digest, 654.

Judge Stroud says, that the same law, substantially, has been adopted in Louisiana. It is true that the civil code of Louisiana thus expresses its humane intentions.

The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual rigor, nor so as to maim or mutilate him, or to expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to cause his death.—Civil Code of Louisiana, Article 173.

The expression “unusual rigor” is suggestive, again. It will afford large latitude for a jury, in states where slaves are in the habit of dying under moderate correction; where outlawed slaves may be killed by any means which any person thinks fit; and where laws have to be specifically made against scalding, burning, cutting out the tongue, putting out the eye, &c. What will be thought unusual rigor? This is a question, certainly, upon which persons in states not so constituted can have no means of forming an opinion.

In one of the newspaper extracts with which we prefaced our account, the following protective act of Louisiana is alluded to, as being particularly satisfactory and efficient. We give it, as quoted by Judge Stroud in his Sketch, page 58, giving his reference.

No master shall be compelled to sell his slave, but in one of two cases, to wit: the first, when, being only co-proprietor of the slave, his co-proprietor demands the sale, in order to make partition of the property; second, when the master shall be CONVICTED of cruel treatment of his slave, AND THE JUDGE SHALL DEEM IT PROPER TO PRONOUNCE, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave shall be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of the reach of the power which his master has abused.—Civil Code, Art. 192.

The question for a jury to determine in this case is, What is cruel treatment of a slave? Now, if all these barbarities which have been sanctioned by the legislative acts which we have quoted are not held to be cruel treatment, the question is, What is cruel treatment of a slave?

Everything that fiendish barbarity could desire can be effected under the protection of the law of South Carolina, which, as we have just shown, exists also in Louisiana. It is true the law restrains from some particular forms of cruelty. If any person has a mind to scald or burn his slave,—and it seems, by the statute, that there have been such people,—these statutes merely provide 89that he shall do it in decent privacy; for, as the very keystone of Southern jurisprudence is the rejection of colored testimony, such an outrage, if perpetrated most deliberately in the presence of hundreds of slaves, could not be proved upon the master.

It is to be supposed that the fiendish people whom such statutes have in view will generally have enough of common sense not to perform it in the presence of white witnesses, since this simple act of prudence will render them entirely safe in doing whatever they have a mind to. We are told, it is true, as we have been reminded by our friend in the newspaper before quoted, that in Louisiana the deficiency caused by the rejection of negro testi............
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