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This continues a very important and informative series of articles.

I note that slavery was made expressly legal in metropolitan France in the 18th century.

In England there was a judicial ruling by Lord Mansfield confirming that slavery was not permitted in England (but not affecting slavery in the colonies).

Extract from the Wikipedia article on William Mirray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murray%2C_1st_Earl_of_Mansfield

James Somerset, a slave brought to England by his master, a Mr. Stewart of Virginia, brought suit against him on 14 May 1772. Lord Mansfield rendered his verdict in favor of Somerset on 22 June 1772.

"On the part of Somerset, the case which we gave notice should be decided, this day, the Court now proceeds to give its opinion. The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it's so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged."

Mansfield concluded that there was no legal backing for slavery in England. Furthermore, the Somerset case is the origin of the following words about English common law (although Mansfield himself never said them) -- words that have been memorized by British pupils ever since.

"The air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe, and so everyone who breathes it becomes free. Everyone who comes to this island is entitled to the protection of English law, whatever oppression he may have suffered and whatever may be the colour of his skin."

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It seems extraordinary that European powers were so willing to permit and encourage slavery and the slave trade in colonial territories, even at times when it was prohibited by their own domestic law.

by Gary J on Thu Jun 15th, 2006 at 09:10:03 AM EST
As is often the case the French case is a little more complex than I presented but there is only so much I could put into a diary, even a three part Diary.

The 1716 ruling by the king which extended the code noir to the metropole of France required approval by regional parliaments. The Nantes area approved it but in Paris there was resistance and it was never fully ratified there if I'm not mistaken. According to what I read this Paris resistance was more a result of rivalries between different factions then due to the issues of human rights. The Robert Harms book I reference in the diaries has quite a bit of interesting detail on this period. As with the case you mention in England there where contestations of the slavery laws. One famous case is a Black Woman who decided to join a religious order of nuns and her "owner" objected but lost the case in a court ruling based on the technicality that the "owner" had not registered their "property" upon entry in France and thus lost their claim on the new nun.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Thu Jun 15th, 2006 at 10:01:35 AM EST
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It seems extraordinary that European powers were so willing to permit and encourage slavery and the slave trade in colonial territories, even at times when it was prohibited by their own domestic law.

Montesquieu, another Bordeaux area 18th century resident and parliamentarian, said something very similar in his satiricalLettres Persanes.

To add to my previous reply about the 1716 extention of the Code Noir to metropole France:
"The Parlement of Paris tried to curb the practice of slavery by 16th century colonists by enacting laws that freed slaves brought into France by their masters. However, these laws only spurred the introduction of new racist legislation such as the Edict of 1716 which afforded freedom only to non-Negro slaves. Despite the existence of new racist laws, most French courts of the time opted to free slaves regardless of their race". (Source:Race, slavery, and the law in early modern France article by Sue Peabody. Highlighted by me).

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Thu Jun 15th, 2006 at 08:10:39 PM EST
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