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The Nomenclature of Enslaved Africans as Real Property or Chattels Personal: Legal Fiction, Judicial Interpretation, Legislative Designation, or Was a Slave a Slave by Any Other Name

Roy W. Copeland
Journal of Black Studies
Vol. 40, No. 5 (MAY 2010), pp. 946-959
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40648615
Page Count: 14
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The Nomenclature of Enslaved Africans as Real Property or Chattels Personal: Legal Fiction, Judicial Interpretation, Legislative Designation, or Was a Slave a Slave by Any Other Name
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Abstract

The enslaved Africans' attachment to the land on which they toiled was multifaceted. Beyond their classification as slaves, the question of whether or not they should be deemed chattel property or real property did little to detract from the moral repugnance of enslavement. The classification of slaves by courts and legislatures reflected how those institutions sought to maximize the value of slaves to their owners. As slavery became the foundation of the South's economy and the value of slave labor increased, courts and legislatures became less inclined to annex slaves to the land. Slaves were deemed transitory, thereby allowing slaveholders to lease the enslaved's labor. The emphasis was thus focused on the slaves' value as "things," and as such the humanity of the enslavement of Black people was never a factor in the opinions of the courts or in the statutory enactments of legislatures.

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