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In 1742 a decree was issued relative to the slave trade, then quite an important branch of commerce. The Code and these additional decrees can all be found at length in
Recueils de Reglemens, etc., avec “Le Code Noir.” Printed at Paris, 1765, by “Les Libraires Associes." "Le Code Noir,” printed by Prault, at Paris, 1767.
The “Compagnie des Indes Occidentales” was established by Royal Decree May 28, 1664, and granted exemptions and privileges by other decrees in the same year, as well as in 1671, 1674 and numerous others. This Company practically controlled all the Colonies of France in tropical America and thereabouts, and the provisions of the “Black Code" were enforced throughout their dominions.
Louisiana being one of the Colonies of France, of course, fell under its provisions.
Bienville, the founder of Louisiana, promulgated a “Black Code" here. His Code was a combination of all the legislation applicable to slaves in force at that time, and was substantially the same, of course, as the Code and the amendments proclaimed by Louis XIV and his successors. Bienville's Code, translated into English, may be found in Fortier's "History of Louisiana,” Vol. 1, pages 87, et seq., and also in B. F. French's "Historical Collections of Louisiana,” Part III, published in 1851 by D. Appleton & Co.
It is, substantially, the “Code Noir" of 1685 and contains 54 articles.
The Spanish Governor O’Rielly made little or no changes in Bienville's Code, and on June 1, 1795, Baron Carondelet, then Spanish Governor of Louisiana, promulgated a short regulation dealing with “Police of Slaves" which may be called a miniature “Black Code,” inspired by the bloody uprisings in St. Domingo.
The provisions of the Carondelet regulation were simply an amplification or extension of some of the provisions of the old Code of Bienville.
In the year 1806, three years after the annexation, the Legislature of Louisiana re-enacted the famous “Black Code”
of Louisiana, which remained in force, with some slight amendments, until slavery was abolished during the Civil War.
This Code can be found in the Acts of the Legislature of 1806. It is divided into two parts: the first part relates to the duties of masters to slaves, the privileges of the slaves; and the second part relates to crimes and offences of slaves.
The first part, for instance, enacts that children under 10 years of age are not to be sold apart from their mothers; that slaves must have due respect for white people; that they are not to carry arms; that no liquors are to be sold to them; that they are not to ride on horseback, or to leave home, without a permit; that they are to hold no property. It prescribes how they are to be fed and clothed, and various other details that look more like the by-laws of a Ladies' Aid Society than the legislation of a sovereign State.
The second part of the Code, covering crimes and offences, prescribes that slaves charged with a capital offence shall be tried by a judge and three to five free holders; that the judgment of that Court shall be final, without appeal; and when a slave is condemned to death and executed, the master is to be compensated and the compensation is to be paid by an assessment on the slave owners in the district where the slave lived.
Masters were punished for wilfully killing or inflicting cruel punishment on a slave. Planters were required to have white or free colored overseers on their plantations, and various other similar petty details were provided.
Amongst the capital crimes were, murder, burning any crop or buildings; poisoning or attempting to poison any person; assault or attempted assault on white women; strik. ing master or mistress, or children of master, to the extent of an abrasion or drawing of blood; inciting an insurrection, etc. And one of the articles provided that any slave disclosing a plot of other slaves for an insurrection or uprising should be granted his freedom.
This Black Code of 1806 was amended in minor details by several acts, until, in 1846, Act 137 made some material changes, particularly in the method of slave trials.
They were made more formal. In capital offences, the District Attorney was to prosecute; the trial would be by jury of two justices of the peace and 10 slave owners. One justice and 9 jurors would be a quorum, and a unanimous verdict was required, and an appeal was permitted.
All these in capital cases. If not capital, one justice and 2 slave owners were all that was required and the District Attorney was not required to be a party to the proceeding. Affidavits were required in advance of trial, which was quite different from the old Code of 1806, where none was needed.
In 1855, by Act 308, a new “Black Code” was adopted by the Legislature, which was quite extensive and embraced everything that was thought to be continued from the old Codes, and added considerable new matter.
It was a very comprehensive Act, but, fortunately or unfortunately, the Supreme Court, in the case of State vs. Harrison, 11 An. 722, declared it unconstitutional, thus wiping it off the statute book.
Reading over all these various “Black Codes,” those of France and Spain and of Louisiana, one may well agree with our great juris-consul Alfred Hennen, who, in his Digest, page 1,452, gives birth to this maxim: "The slaves' best protection was their value, and the damage due to their master for injuries inflicted upon them.” They were property, treated as such, and, as such, were of so much value to their owners that it was to the interest of the owner to see that they were properly treated and cared for.
In this short review of the history of the “Black Code," I have not attempted to review the innumerable city ordinances enacted in New Orleans and elsewhere, dealing with various phases of slave life.
Beginning with the Code, or Digest of City Ordinances, published by John Renard, the city printer of New Orleans, in 1808, we find numerous ordinances relating to slaves, dealing with such trivialities as forbidding any slaves to attend "wakes” unless they were relatives of the deceased; regulating slave gatherings; regulating the keeping of runaway slaves; regulating driving of vehicles by slaves; compelling slaves to wear badges when they were hired out, and many other provisions regarding the daily life and occupation of the negro slave.
Were I to do that, this paper would go beyond all reason in its length.
But these laws and ordinances of the State and City are full of interest to the historian, to the philanthropist, and to the student of human nature.
The "Black Code” died with slavery. It is but a shadowy relic of a Past that will never again become a Present.
Yet those still living, who remember the days of slavery, agree that a “Black Code” was necessary to regulate the social life of the South in those days. In its provisions relating to the treatment of slaves, it was in the main, kind and considerate; and in many respects less harsh than were the provisions of the famous “Blue Laws” of Connecticut, wherein they sought to control the daily life of those fortunate or unfortunate enough to live under their jurisdiction, and particularly in the provisions of those Blue Laws concerning people who were not of the “elect.”
Even to-day we have echoes of the times of the “Black Code,” in our Jim Crow laws, in our separate street cars for the two races, in the laws passed here for segregating negroes in the various cities of the Country, and in similar legislation, we provide separate schools for the black and the white, and we forbid intermarriage of the races.
In fact the "Black Code” is simply an expression of an innate necessity of nature to keep the races pure, and in that respect, was a benefit to both. And while the abolition of slavery has relegated this Code to the oblivion of the past, a study of its provisions will be helpful to those of us who have as one of our tasks the solution of that Race Problem, which is ever present when unwise legislators strive to force a superior and an inferior race to measure their lives by the same moral and intellectual standard.
MAY MEETING, 1915.
There was a good attendance at the meeting held in the Cabildo for May; Mr. Dymond presided in the absence of the president. The secretary read the minutes of the previous meeting, which were approved. A letter by Mr. Wm. Beer was read by the secretary, asking a stay of proceedings in the matter under advisement of continuing Mr. Price in the work of cataloguing the historical documents entrusted by the State to the Historical Society.
Mr. Hart, in the name of Mr. James Rosenberg, presented to the society for its library two rare volumes of reports of the Trial of Aaron Burr for treason; also from Mr. McLoughlin the minutes of the Anti Lottery movement, and from Mr. Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston an interesting series of photographs taken during the recent centennial celebration of the Battle of New Orleans, of various spots connected with the battle; also a photograph of Mr. Thruston himself.
The society thanked the various donors by vote.
A list of names for membership was presented by Mr. Hart and elected.
The following report was read from Mr. Beer, chairman of the Program Committee of the Mississippi Valley Historical Society entertainments:
“On Wednesday, January the 29th, 1915, I was named chairman of a Joint Committee of Arrangements to carry out a meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Associa