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The Enlightenment on TrialOrdinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire$
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Bianca Premo

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190638726

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190638726.001.0001

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Being and Becoming

Being and Becoming

Freedom and Slave Lawsuits

(p.191) 6 Being and Becoming
The Enlightenment on Trial

Bianca Premo

Oxford University Press

Historians have long noted that a defining feature of Spanish imperial slave law was the right slaves possessed to sue their masters. This chapter historicizes that right in the civil sphere, and dates it to the advent of new jurisprudential ideas and slaves’ increased legal activity beginning in the mid-1700s. Enslaved litigants began to appeal to royal courts over new types of cases, including the right to self-purchase, as well as to reinterpret older codified laws on conditional liberty and owner abuse. In these suits, they began to use the fact that owners implicitly recognized slaves’ civil subjectivity in the arrangements they often made with them to present slavery as a stage rather than a permanent condition. In going to court and arguing that their search for freedom was in fact a movement toward moral good, they advanced a modern notion of human agency in line with that of many Enlightenment philosophers.

Keywords:   slavery, slave law, self-purchase, conditional liberty, freedom, abuse

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