Slaves and the Courts

About the Collection

Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860, consists of 105 library items, totaling approximately 8,700 pages. The items are drawn principally from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, with a few from the General Collections. The selection was guided in large part by the entries in Slavery in the Courtroom: An Annotated Bibliography of American Cases by Paul Finkelman (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985), which was based on research in the Library collections. The documents comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance. Most of the items date from the nineteenth century and include materials associated with the Dred Scott case and the abolitionist activities of John Brown, John Quincy Adams, and William Lloyd Garrison. Eighteenth-century cases include Somerset v. Stewart, decided in England a few years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which "underscored the great tension created by slavery in Anglo-American law." (Finkelman, p. 6)

Some of the items presented here, such as the report of the trial of Castner Hanway in 1851, are the only primary source on their subjects. All but one of the items are available both as online images and as searchable text; the exception is an unpublished handwritten slavery code for the District of Columbia, which is available as images only.

Notable titles include:

Related Examples from Other Online Library Collections

Slaves and the Courts