I was listening to a public radio show this evening that interviewed a Southerner who had changed his mind about the Confederate battle flag in part because of something he found when doing geneology research. An ancestor of his had petitioned the county court for permission to castrate one of his slaves. :eek:
The guy they were interviewing was understandably horrified by this. It is unquestionably a disturbing notion. But I was actually surprised that he had to petition the court at all. It is often maintained that slaves’ status was no different, essentially, than that of livestock. And one certainly doesn’t have to get a court’s permission to geld a bull. (Right?)
I suppose there’s one clear way in which slaves had a higher legal status than animals: they were counted, at a discounted rate of 60%, in determining the number of seats Southern states controlled in the House. But a slave did not get 60% of a vote (or any percent), so it’s hard to see how that can be seen as any kind of individual legal protection.
I have actually never before heard of any even implied legal protection of an enslaved African American in the antebellum South, other than cases like Solomon Northup’s, where his allies were able to legally show in court what his true name was and that he was a legally emancipated Northern black man. But for someone who is unambiguously enslaved, according to the laws of that time, I had no idea there was any kind of law curtailing what could be done to them by their “rightful owners”.