Course Information

Course Number




JD Graduation Requirements

This course typically satisfies all or some of the following JD graduation requirements:
  • Writing

Law of Slavery

This course introduces students to the common law of American slavery. It focuses on the daily disputes that juries and judges adjudicated to demonstrate how slavery saturated southern law, encompassing not only conflicts over freedom and race, but also inheritance, mortgages, marriage, torts, contracts, and property. In the process the course continually returns to what we expect from a rule of law while engaging some of the major debates that have dominated slavery studies over the last thirty years. These include the salience of race versus class in American slavery; its similarities and differences from other enslaving cultures; whether to characterize it as a totalitarian legal and political system; the extent to which those parts of the nation that preceded the South in abolishing slavery could be characterized as "free"; whether slavery was "efficient"; its impact on black culture, especially on the black family; slavery's gender and class effects; the possibility of love and erotic desire under slavery; questions of slave resistance; and, of course, the role of law in implementing, reinforcing, and sustaining slavery. Weekly readings include cases and treatise excerpts, as well as secondary scholarly sources.

Each student will write either a research paper or do a set of three assignments, including a book review and analysis of historical and legal documents.

Instructor: Adrienne Davis

Please note that course organization and content may vary substantially from semester to semester and descriptions are not necessarily professor specific. Please contact the instructor directly if you have particular course-related questions.


Adrienne Davis
Law of Slavery 794.01
Fall 2013
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Paul Finkelman
Law of Slavery 794.01
Fall 2012
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