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Family or FreedomPeople of Color in the Antebellum South$
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Emily West

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813136929

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813136929.001.0001

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Presumed Enslaved: Free People of Color and the Law in the Southern States

Presumed Enslaved: Free People of Color and the Law in the Southern States

(p.21) 1 Presumed Enslaved: Free People of Color and the Law in the Southern States
Family or Freedom

Emily West

University Press of Kentucky

Chapter one sets the context by detailing the various laws and restrictions imposed upon Southern free people of color over the course of the antebellum era, and particularly the 1850s, when moves to expel or enslave free blacks reached a crescendo. “Voluntary” enslavement legislation and debates therefore represented the culmination of a pro-slavery rhetoric which assumed slavery was a positive good. Such legislation also facilitated the shift towards an “idealized” biracial South of black slaves and free white people. The chapter contextualizes the ever-more restrictive legislation towards free people of color enacted prior to the 1850s. It then considers those laws debated and passed during this decade and the early 1860s, and suggest broader implications of their severity. Comparing and contrasting legislative action across the South, despite somewhat imbalanced surviving evidence and different degrees of legislation against free blacks, reveals the motivations behind expulsion and enslavement laws. Moreover, while the coming of war meant some laws were never enacted or enforced, debates over expulsion and enslavement offer a stark reminder of the direction in which the American South was travelling - towards the enslavement of all free people of color.

Keywords:   Free People of Color, Laws, Southern States, “Voluntary” enslavement legislation, Biracial, 1850s, Motivations, Expulsion, Enslavement, Legislative debates, Free people of color

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