The Bondsman's Burden

The Bondsman's Burden : An Economic Analysis of the Common Law of Southern Slavery

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Were slaves property or human beings under the law? In crafting answers to this question, Southern judges designed efficient laws that protected property rights and helped slavery remain economically viable. But, by preserving property rights, they sheltered the persons embodied by that property - the slaves themselves. Slave law therefore had unintended consequences: it generated rules that judges could apply to free persons, precedents that became the foundation for laws designed to protect ordinary Americans. The Bondsman's Burden, first published in 1998, provides a rigorous and compelling economic analysis of the common law of Southern slavery, inspecting thousands of legal disputes heard in Southern antebellum courts, disputes involving servants, employees, accident victims, animals, and other chattel property, as well as slaves. The common law, although it supported the institution of slavery, did not favor every individual slave owner who brought a grievance to court.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 292 pages
  • 152.4 x 226.06 x 22.86mm | 408.23g
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 3 tables
  • 0521521386
  • 9780521521383
  • 2,197,928

Table of contents

1. American slavery and the path of the law; 2. The law of sales: slaves, animals, and commodities; 3. The law of hiring and employment: slaves, animals, and free persons; 4. The law regarding common carriers: slaves, animals, commodities, and free persons; 5. The law regarding governments, government officials, slave patrollers, and overseers: protecting private property versus keeping public peace; 6. The legal rights and responsibilities of strangers toward slaves, animals, and free persons; 7. Treatment of one's slaves, servants, animals, and relatives: legal boundaries and the problem of social cost; 8. The south's law of slavery: reflecting the felt necessities of the time.
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Review quote

"In The Bondsman's Burden, Jenny Wahl provides and insightful look at the antebellum South's legal system and how southern judges fashioned a jurisprudence of slavery vital to preserving the economic vitality of the institution. In affording this insight, Wahl also supplies an important look at the role of legal rules in the development and maintenance of economic institutions and processes." William and Mary Quarterly "Wahl has written a splendid and comprehensive analysis of the common law of slavery." Journal of Interdisciplinary History "...scholars of slavery and of the law will find this an original and thought-provoking work." American Historical Review "This book is highly recommended." The Journal of the Early Republic "With its succinct case analyses and its willingness to apply economic and legal perspectives to an important problem in North American history, The Bondsman's Burden is sure to provoke discussion among historians, legal experts, and economists." Dylan C. Penningroth, Labor History "Wahl has written an important book. She has reviewed an enormous number of appellate cases and has suggest that was a difference between rules relating to slaves and other persons. Her evidence implies that southern law, because of slavery, was affected by economic values, one of which was that slave property should receive special protection." Law & History Review Fall 01
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