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Collection Slaves and the Courts, 1740 to 1860

About this Collection

This collection consists of 105 library books and manuscripts, totalling approximately 8,700 pages drawn principally from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, with a few from the General Collections. The selection was guided in large part by the entries in Slavery in the Courtroom: An Annotated Bibliography of American Cases by Paul Finkelman (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985), which was based on research in the Library collections. The documents comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance. Most of the items date from the nineteenth century and include materials associated with the Dred Scott case and the abolitionist activities of John Brown, John Quincy Adams, and William Lloyd Garrison. Eighteenth-century cases include Somerset v. Stewart, decided in England a few years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which "underscored the great tension created by slavery in Anglo-American law." (Finkelman, p. 6)

Some of the items presented here, such as the report of the trial of Castner Hanway in 1851, are the only primary source on their subjects. All but one of the items are available both as online images and as searchable text; the exception is an unpublished handwritten slavery code for the District of Columbia, which is available as images only.

View also the Browse Lists for Annals of Congress, Register of Debates, and The Congressional Globe for more debates on slavery.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 contains many relevant pamphlets.

The American Memory Today in History archives include the following related accounts:

The American Treasures of the Library of Congress presents an online version of particularly important items in the Library's collections.

The Local Legacies Project, which helped celebrate the Library's Bicentennial, also contains pertinent material.