The Laws of Slavery in Texas: Historical Documents and Essays

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The laws that governed the institution of slavery in early Texas were enacted over a fifty-year period in which Texas moved through incarnations as a Spanish colony, a Mexican state, an independent republic, a part of the United States, and a Confederate state. This unusual legal heritage sets Texas apart from the other slave-holding states and provides a unique opportunity to examine how slave laws were enacted and upheld as political and legal structures changed. The Laws of Slavery in Texas makes that examination possible by combining seminal historical essays with excerpts from key legal documents from the slave period and tying them together with interpretive commentary by the foremost scholar on the subject, Randolph B. Campbell.

Campbell's commentary focuses on an aspect of slave law that was particularly evident in the evolving legal system of early Texas: the dilemma that arose when human beings were treated as property. As Campbell points out, defining slaves as moveable property, or chattel, presented a serious difficulty to those who wrote and interpreted the law because, unlike any other form of property, slaves were sentient beings. They were held responsible for their crimes, and in numerous other ways statute and case law dealing with slavery recognized the humanness of the enslaved. Attempts to protect the property rights of slave owners led to increasingly restrictive laws-including laws concerning free blacks-that were difficult to uphold. The documents in this collection reveal both the roots of the dilemma and its inevitable outcome.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292721883
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2010
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Randolph B. Campbell is Regents Professor of History at the University of North Texas and editor of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

William S. Pugsley is Executive Director of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society.

Marilyn P. Duncan is Consulting Editor for the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society’s History Book Project.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Joe R. Greenhill ix

Project Director's Foreword Joseph W. McKnight xi

Acknowledgments xiii

A Note on Editorial Style xv

Introduction. Human Chattels: The Laws of Slavery in Texas Randolph B. Campbell 1

1 Laws on Slavery in Mexican Texas, 1821-1836 7

Legal Documents

Empire of Mexico, Colonisation Law of January 4, 1823 8

Stephen F. Austin's Colony Criminal Regulations, 1824, Articles 10-14 10

Congress of the United Mexican States, Decree on the Slave Trade in Mexico, July 13, 1824 12

Constitution of Coahuila and Texas, March 11, 1827, Article 13 14

State of Coahuila and Texas, Decree No. 18, September 15, 1827 15

State of Coahuila and Texas, Decree No. 35, November 24, 1827 17

State of Coahuila and Texas, Decree No. 56, May 5, 1828 18

Republic of Mexico, Decree of April 6, 1830 19

State of Coahuila and Texas, Decree No. 190, April 28, 1832 20


Slavery in Early Texas, I Lester G. Bugbee 21

Slavery in Early Texas, II Lester G. Bugbee 37

2 Laws on Slavery in the Republic and Statehood Periods, 1836-1860 51

Legal Documents

Constitution of the Republic of Texas, 1836, General Provisions, Sections 6, 9, 10 52

Constitution of the State of Texas, 1845, Article 8 54


The Law of Slavery in Texas Randolph B. Campbell 56

The Texas Supreme Court and Trial Rights of Blacks, 1845-1860 A. E. Keir Nash 70


Case Study: One Woman's Fight for Freedom:1851 Gess v. Lubbock Mark Davidson 87

Case Report: 1857 Henry B. Hedgepeth v. Felix W. Robertson 94

3 Law on Free Negroes in the Republic and statehood periods, 1836-1860 106

Legal Documents

Republic of Texas Congress, Debate on the Emancipation of Peter Martin, December 1839, and An Act to Authorize Wyle Martin to Emancipate His Slave Peter, January 3, 1840 107

Republic of Texas, An Act Concerning Free Persons of Color, February 5, 1840 112

Republic of Texas, An Act for the Relief of Certain Free Persons of Color, December 12, 1840 115


The Free Negro in the Republic of Texas: The Extent of Discrimination and Its Effects Harold Schoen 117


Case Report: 1843 Jesse Benton v. Eli Williams 134

4 Law on Slavery and Freedom in Confederate and Reconstruction Texas, 1861-1874 136

Legal Document

Session Convention of Texas, A Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861 137


The End of Slavery in Texas: A Research Note Randolph B. Campbell 139


Case Report: Emancipation Proclamation Cases: 1868 W. M. Hall v. T. M. Keese Dougherty v. Cartwright 144

Case Report: 1874 William Garrett v. John H. Brooks 151

Notes 155

Selected Bibliography 177

Index 181

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