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Legalized Slavery

Updated on September 6, 2013
Abolition of Slavery in French Colonies
Abolition of Slavery in French Colonies | Source

England and France have had a long shared history; through monarchs, wars, disease, discovery, and conquest. These two countries also have a shared history of legalized slavery. Though both countries held different lands and islands in the Atlantic World, their views upon slavery and opposing religions are the same. Through their legal documents historians can see that religion was the dominate factor in how slaves were treated and labeled as slaves. Both documents express the need for distinction between the slaves, black or otherwise and the white Christian population. The Code Noir and Virginia Slave Code of 1705 are two important documents in that they show historians how slavery was deemed to be legal in the Atlantic World and how a person was determined to be a slave. Although these documents are hard to read without expressing a bias against slavery, these primary source documents are a necessity for any historian to read in order to understand the need and reception of legalized slavery the Atlantic World.

Code Noir

According to the Code Noir, what was considered to be a slave was not as well defined as the Virginia Slave Code. In the Virginia Slave Code of 1705, a slave was considered to beall servants imported and brought into this country, by sea or land, who were not Christians in their native country, (except Turks and Moors in amity with her majesty, and others that can make do proof of their being free in England, or any other Christian country, before they were shipped, in order to transportation hither) shall be accounted and be slaves, and as such be here bought and sold notwithstanding a conversion to Christianity afterwards. (Hening, 1823, parIV) This included; Negros, mulattos, pagan Indians, Jews and infidels. If a person from this racial group was a Christian, they still had some of the same restrictions placed upon them as many of the slaves did. The way that these groups were defined by the English setters in Virginia was through their religion or lack thereof. If they had documentation of being free in Europe also defined them as a slave or not.

More than 10 million Africans forcibly transported to America for 200 years. For 1 captive there are 10 people died defending their family. Human cargo packed tightly that it was impossible to move Portuguese monopoly Slave Trade followed by Britis
More than 10 million Africans forcibly transported to America for 200 years. For 1 captive there are 10 people died defending their family. Human cargo packed tightly that it was impossible to move Portuguese monopoly Slave Trade followed by Britis | Source

The Religious factor

Due to the conquering nations being of a Christian religion many settlers felt that the slaves were beneath them because of their religious superiority. The French declared in the Code Noir that we forbid any religion other than the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith from being practiced in public. (Code Noir, 1687, Article III) The Code Noir also states that to do so would be seen as illegal. In the Virginia Slave Code of 1705 the Virginia settlers declared that baptism of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage; and that all children shall be bond or free, according to the condition of their mothers, and the particular directions of this act. (Hening, 1823 par XXXVI) This shows historians that even if the slave accepts Christianity that they would still remain a slave, much like the same standards that the Islamic empires had regarding slaves converting to Islam.

French and English differences

The key similarity is religion and how the Christian religion takes dominance upon all other established religions including Islam and Judaism. The difference between the English and French is that the French were willing to free more slaves than their English counterparts. As stated in the above paragraph, the English would not recognize children who were baptized, yet born a slave as free. In the Code Noir it states, we declare their freedom is granted in our islands if their place of birth was in our islands. We declare also that freed slaves shall not require our letters of naturalization to enjoy the advantages of our natural subjects in our kingdom, lands or country of obedience, even when they are born in foreign countries. (Code Noir, 1687, Article LVIII) The Code Noir also states that the French were willing to give their freed slaves the same rights and privileges as non-slaves who were also considered to be French citizens. The Virginia Slave Code of 1705 declares that no Negros, mulattos, or Indians, although Christians, or Jews, Moors, Mahometans, or other infidels, shall, at any time, purchase any Christian servant, nor any other, except of their own complexion, or such as are declared slaves by this act. (Hening, 1823 par XI) This shows that the English settlers felt that even if the person was freed, the skin of their color did not allow them the same advantages as freed and indentured whites. This can also be seen as a precursor of American views on slavery and Constitutional Amendments such as the 14th Amendment.

Modern Philanthropy, Cartoon about English/American Reaction to France's Abolition of Slavery, 1794
Modern Philanthropy, Cartoon about English/American Reaction to France's Abolition of Slavery, 1794 | Source

Conclusion

The differences between the French and English slave owners is that the French saw the freed slaves as human, while the English saw them as property. Though the French had similar religious views toward the slaves as did the English, in the end they had more compassion towards those they held in bondage. Through these primary sources historians can see the compassion the French had for freeing their slaves through naturalization, marriage, and birth. It is the primary sources that are the most important factors in telling the story of how legalized slavery shaped the Atlantic World.

Sources

Code Noir (1687) Édit du Roi, Touchant la Police des Isles de l'Amérique Française. Paris, pp. 28–58. Retrieved on August 7, 2011 from http://vizedhtmlcontent.next.ecollege.com/pub/content/53a53e30-2301-4ccf-a1bc-0b4bb3d36748/Code_Noir.pdf

Hening, W. W. (1823) Hening's Statutes at Large. Richmond; 3:447-62.retrieved on August 7, 2011 from http://vizedhtmlcontent.next.ecollege.com/pub/content/4254e2d0-9969-45d8-bc61-3868d98d2ce3/Virginia_slave_code_1705.pdf

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