Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Neal v. Farmer II: Slavery and the "Law of Kindness"

Justice Nisbet explained that, although the common law did not protect slaves, the lot of slaves was far better in Georgia than it had been in Africa. In “that dark land” there was “pure, unmitigated slavery.” So too was slavery at first unmitigated in Georgia “until legislation, prompted by christianity, softened its severities.” Justice Nisbet then sketched out his vision of slavery leavened with Christian charity:

“The curse of the Patriarch rests still upon the descendents of Ham. The negro and his master are but fulfilling a divine appointment. Christ came not to remove the curse; but recognizing the relation of master and servant, he prescribed the rules which govern, and the obligations which grow out of it, and thus ordained it an institution of christianity. It is the crowning glory of this age and of this land, that our legislation has responded to the requirements of the New Testament in great part, and if let alone, the time is not distant when we, the slaveholders, will come fully up to the measure of our obligations as such, under the christian dispensation.”

Justice Nisbet then briefly catalogued the benefits and protections that legislators, guided by Christianity, had been able to bring to slaves without impinging on the rights of the masters:

“The laws of Georgia, at this moment, recognize the negro as a man, whilst they hold him property – whilst they enforce obedience in the slave, they require justice and moderation in the master. They protect his life from homicide, his limbs from mutilation, and his body from cruel and unnecessary scourging. They yield to him the right to food and raiment, to kind attentions when sick, and to maintenance in old age; and public sentiment, in conformity with indispensable legal restraints, extends to the slave the benefits and blessings of our Holy Religion.”

In short, the people of Georgia had made the institution of slavery subject to “the law of kindness:”

“Conceding that there are violations occasionally on the part of the master, of the obligations of humanity, yet it may be asserted, with truth, that the relation of master and slave in Georgia, is an institution subject to the law of kindness to as great an extent as any institution springing out of the relation of employer and employed, any where existing among men.”

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