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University, Court, and SlaveProslavery Academic Thought and Southern Jurisprudence, 1831–1861$
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Alfred L. Brophy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199964239

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199964239.001.0001

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The Novelist and the Jurist

The Novelist and the Jurist

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Jurisprudence of Sentiment

Chapter:
(p.182) 7 The Novelist and the Jurist
Source:
University, Court, and Slave
Author(s):

Alfred L. Brophy

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199964239.003.0008

Where proslavery Southerners had focused on the utility of slavery in arguing for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, antislavery writers responded that considerations of utility needed to take into account the lives of enslaved people and that a “jurisprudence of sentiment” should replace such cold calculations of utility to slave owners. Harriet Beecher Stowe presented an alternative “jurisprudence of sentiment” in her 1856 novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The novel uses the 1830 case of State v. Mann by Justice Thomas Ruffin, which allowed an abuser of a slave to escape liability. Stowe’s judge issued a proslavery decision, even while he was antislavery in private. The judge was constrained by law to issue the decision and, thus, Stowe set up a conflict between law and morality. Although she was opposed to it, Stowe confirmed the centrality of economic reasoning about slavery to southern law.

Keywords:   Harriet Beecher Stowe, moral philosophy, Thomas Ruffin, State v. Mann, jurisprudence of sentiment, utility, common law, rule of law

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