Legal Dimensions of Slavery in French and English Colonies | Homework Help

Legal Dimensions of Slavery in French and English Colonies

The French Code Noir and Virginia Slave Code of 1705
Question1. How was the legal status of the slave defined?
The Code Noir was a term coined by the French King’s name Louise XIV. It elaborated and illustrated the slavery conditions in the ancient colonial empire. This law decreed the restriction on all activities of any Negroes and declared Roman Catholics as the only valid religion. It dictated that all slaves were to be baptized by the Catholic Church and all Jews were expelled out of France. The Code Noir empowered the plantation owners with total power in respect to their slaves (Finkelman, 2002). They went to an extreme extent of legalizing the brutal treatment of slaves as a control mechanism.
The code can be described as part of the most influential officially documented decree that impacted humanity across the factors of slavery, race, and people’s freedom in Europe (Bush, 2013). It was originally meant to provide a legal framework and end illegal slave trade, but its initial version was rejected.
The Virginia Slave Act of 1705 was passed by the assembly. It automatically made any black indebted servants into a life of slavery (Stephen, 2010). It did not mater that they were about to finish their service and be freed or not. All the men, their women, and all their children were sentenced to a life of slavery. Prior to this law being passed, all servants who were indentured and the teenagers had to work until they were twenty four to be free. This law gave way to the foundation of slavery that led to the brutal treatment that the slaves had to suffer.
According to Finkelman (2002), the 1705 Virginia Act gave opportunity to the white Christians to cane, mistreat, and even kill the black slaves without any consequences. This also meant that if one was not born white and were not Christians, they were inferior to all others. This law was ironical in that, being born white was much more valued than being a Christian. Therefore, if an individual was a black slave, he or she was not spared from the torture.
Question 2. Who did the defining?
The defining of the two slave codes was done by the masters, by the use of law enforced by authority. This means that the two codes were legal in the society at that time and inherently gave the masters the superior power over all their slaves. The slave masters disciplined the slaves and decided who and when to associate with the other slaves from his farm or the neighboring farms (Bush, 2013). Question 3. What assumption was made about the nature of the slave population?
The assumption that was made was that French colonies’ slaves were the majority in population. Therefore, the French colonies had enough slave labor in their plantations and in their absence; the subordinate slaves would run them. In both colonies, due to their large population, the slaves would form resistance groups, which were counteracting the brutality that slaves suffered in the hands of the white masters (Stephen, 2010).
Question 4. What are the key differences and similarities between the two codes?
The similarities in the two codes are that in both no slave master and authority cared whether the slaves suffered brutality, torture, or died in inhuman ways. Also in both cases Christianity was used as the relevant religion. Moreover, in both cases, there was the inferior group – slaves – and the superior group – the white masters in these colonial societies as stated by the laws (Bush, 2013).
The differences arose in the Code Noir’s initial purpose, which was to prevent illegal slave trade whereas the Virginia law promoted illegal slavery of individuals from the black race. In the Code Noir, both the Jews and black slaves suffered humiliation and oppression whereas in the Virginia case, it was the blacks that were oppressed due to their skin color and denied their rights of association in the Plantation South (Finkelman, 2002).
Question 5. What do the two codes tell us about the role of slavery in the Atlantic world?
The role of slavery in the Atlantic world was to provide servants who could perform hard manual tasks without pay and as cheap source of labor to the industrialization age. In the Plantation South, huge plantations of cotton and other crops needed workers and slavery provided an avenue for getting the cheap labor from Africa. The French also needed servants who performed chores for the white masters with little or no pay at all. Slavery also played a segregation role whereby it separated the superior group of people from the inferior people (Stephen, 2010). The white people were superior and treated Jews and blacks as inferior races to be despised and used as servants. Today, the segregation and racial discrimination that the contemporary society struggles to defeat have their origin in slavery.

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Bush, J. A (2013). Free to enslave: The foundations of colonial American slave law. Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities. 5 (2): p. 7-64.
Finkelman, P. (2002). Slavery & the law. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
Stephen, J. (2010). The slavery of the British West India colonies. London: Cambridge University Press.


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