Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

By Thomas D. Morris

592 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4817-3
    Published: February 1999
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6430-2
    Published: January 2004
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8293-6
    Published: January 2004

Studies in Legal History

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Awards & distinctions

1997 Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award, Southern Historical Association

1996 Book Award, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

This volume is the first comprehensive history of the evolving relationship between American slavery and the law from colonial times to the Civil War. As Thomas Morris clearly shows, racial slavery came to the English colonies as an institution without strict legal definitions or guidelines. Specifically, he demonstrates that there was no coherent body of law that dealt solely with slaves. Instead, more general legal rules concerning inheritance, mortgages, and transfers of property coexisted with laws pertaining only to slaves. According to Morris, southern lawmakers and judges struggled to reconcile a social order based on slavery with existing English common law (or, in Louisiana, with continental civil law.) Because much was left to local interpretation, laws varied between and even within states. In addition, legal doctrine often differed from local practice. And, as Morris reveals, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, tensions mounted between the legal culture of racial slavery and the competing demands of capitalism and evangelical Christianity.

About the Author

Thomas D. Morris, professor of history at Portland State University, is author of Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780-1861.
For more information about Thomas D. Morris, visit the Author Page.


"Supports and takes exception to many of the traditional views regarding Southern slavery. By overlaying American slavery with Southern law, Morris provides us with valuable insight and analysis. This book will long be considered a classic for understanding Southern slavery and the social system in which it existed."--Our State

"This fine book is now the standard work concerning the legal history of slavery in the United States."--Journal of Southern History

"The fullest and most probing explication to date of the policies and practices of the 'laws' of slavery."--Historian

"A valuable contribution to the historiography of southern law and to the historiography of the institution of slavery."--Journal of the Early Republic

"Brimming with knowledge and insight about a horrific aspect of our legal culture that continues to affect us."--Washington Post Book World

"Morris's comprehensive investigation ranges from 17th-century Chesapeake to late antebellum Texas in considering sources of slave law, the role of race in its development, and relationships among slavery, capitalism, and the law. . . . Historians of slavery will find perceptive observations on violence by and against slaves, manumission, hiring out, and flight."--Choice