Book Review: Slavery and the Law: A Study in Contradiction
15 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2010
Date Written: August 1, 1978
Consider this book the next time you are staring at your melting sherbet at the end of a Law Day speech about the majesty of the law and the glory of the Founding Fathers' vision. Judge Higginbotham's important study of law and race relations is a useful antidote for self-congratulation, an occupational hazard of lawyers. In the Matter of Color is the first volume of Judge Higginbotham's projected three-volume study of the progress of racial justice in America. He has assembled cases and statutes into a lucid and convincing demonstration of the lamentable role of law as an instrument of oppression in our colonial period. His work contains several serious limitations, but Judge Higginbotham makes a powerful case for his central point that "the American legal process was able to set its conscience aside and, by pragmatic toadying to economic 'needs,' rationalize a regression of human rights for blacks." His study of six colonies - Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania - makes clear the inhumanity behind the law pertaining to race from the arrival of white settlers until the Revolutionary period. As the horrors multiply, Judge Higginbotham manages both to control his own passion and to avoid numbering the reader's conscience. This is a consciousness-raising book, in the best tradition of the Brandeis brief. Fact is piled on painful fact; the law emerges as the increasingly harsh controller of slaves even, on occasion, the controller of masters.
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