Sample Essay Paper on Slavery Codes in America

Slavery Codes in America

In 17th century, slave trade was a major part of the economy in America. As the trade enhanced, most of the slaves did not accept their fate, and there were several rebellions from slaves claiming their rights. The rebellions caused fear to the America colonialist, and they decided to enact a series of laws that restricted and governed slave behaviors. These rules, regulations and slave code of conduct were referred to as the slave codes. Each colony or state developed its slave codes, which defined the status of slaves and their rights to masters. The slave codes gave the masters total power over the slaves by treating them as their property.[1]

Similarities between slave codes of different colonies

Although slave codes from different nations were different, there were some statutes of slave codes that were similar. One of the major similarities of slave codes of conduct is that slaves were legally considered as properties of their masters. Consequently, the owner could award slaves as prices. Slaves ware offered as security for loans wagered in the gambling or transferred as security for loans. Slaves also did not have right to own properties or enter into contracts. This extended that slaves could not marry since marriage was considered as a form of contract. Another major similarity in the slave codes was that slaves were not allowed to keep a gun or any firearm. Masters were allowed to search and carry out operations in the houses of their slaves to look for firearms. If a slave was found in procession of a gun, they ware canned in public, and the master forfeited the gun. Slaves were also not allowed to testify against whites in a court of laws. No slave codes allowed education for slaves. Anyone found offering education to slaves was punished and fined. Slaves were also not allowed to assemble without the presence of white.[2]

Differences between slave codes

However, there were some differences in some slave codes from different nations. Taking the example of in Alabama State, the enslaved people were not allowed to leave masters premises without written consent. In Virginia, slaves were not allowed to drink in public or social gatherings while in other colonies slaves were allowed to drink. In Ohio, emancipated slave was prohibited from returning to the enslaved state while in other colonies slaves were allowed to return to the state they were enslaved before emancipation.

Justification of slavery

From the analysis of the slave codes, it is evident that they tried to justify slavery as an economic activity. This was by taking slaves as properties that could be traded and be used for economic benefit. Slaves were considered as a source of labor in the large agricultural plantations in America. Slavery was also considered as a form of punishment to law breakers. Slavery was also used as a means of payments such as paying debt. Therefore, the imperial America colonialist considered slavery as a legal activity and slaves had limited rights.[3]

Attempts to Mitigate Worst Abuses

It is evident that some imperial powers tried to mitigate its worst abuses. Some of the common strategies that were used include the establishment of the slave code. The slave codes defined the rights of slaves to masters as well as the rights of masters to slaves. One of the rules that protected slaves from the worst abuse is that masters were supposed to feed and clothe slaves. There were also established working hours for slaves and masters were to adhere to these rules. Masters and slaves who broke the rules set by the slave codes were punished. The common form of punishment included fines, canning or death. Some imperial powers encouraged education of slaves to enable them read the bible. Some imperials also gave slaves a little freedom like to live on their own. After the civil war, some colonies gave slaves the right to testify against their masters who mistreated them in a court of law.[4]

The rights of enslaved people and their conditions

Although slaves were considered as properties of their master, they had limited rights. Slaves were entitled to legal protection if other persons other than their masters mistreated them. Slave also had both the right of food and clothing from their masters. Some imperials also gave slaves the right to marry and live with their children. However, slaves’ rights increased after the civil in America. Some slaves were given rights to supervise other slaves who worked in agriculture plantations. Many black slaves were able to secure their freedom. Most of the slaves started buying freedom from their owners through manumissions where their owners voluntarily emancipated them. Most of the slaves were released since they had outlived their usefulness due to their age. Some also were given special favor by their owners while others freed themselves through escape. The freed slaves become citizens of America and acquired more rights. Governments also established schools to educate freed slaves both adults and their children[5]


Elkins, Stanley M. Slavery: A problem in American institutional and intellectual life. University

of Chicago Press, 2013.

Levine, Lawrence W. Black culture and black consciousness: Afro-American folk thought from

slavery to freedom. Oxford University Press, 1978.

Peabody, Sue, and Keila Grinberg. “Slavery, Freedom and the Law in the Atlantic World.” Bedford/St.

Martin’s (2007).

Putnam, Lara. “To study the fragments/whole: microhistory and the Atlantic World.” journal of

social history 39.3 (2006): 615-630.

[1]Sue Peabody and Keila Grinberg. Slavery, Freedom and the Law in the Atlantic World. (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2007).

[2] Ibid., 132

[3] Lawrence Levine, Black culture and black consciousness: Afro-American folk thought from

slavery to freedom. (Oxford University Press, 1978).

[4] Lara Putnam, to study the fragments/whole: microhistory and the Atlantic World. journal of

social history 39.3 (2006): 615-630

[5] Ibid., 487