Critical Analysis of Slavery Law and Society

Topics: Slavery, Law, British Empire Pages: 6 (1876 words) Published: March 23, 2011
“The race is not for the swift but who can endure”

Undoubtedly the four territories under the acquisition of Britain comprising the British Windward Islands indeed had a race to endure of which only the fittest of the fittest could survive, and as such did have profound effects on their development. The book entitled, Slavery, Law and Society in the British Windward Islands 1763-1823, a Comparative Study by Bernard Marshall analyses and examines the extent to which these territories were captivated by using the law to protect the rich white minority while simultaneously exploiting and degrading the black majority of the population of the British Windward Islands. Bernard Marshall in his attempt to scrutinize the economic, social, political and legal framework which bound the lives of the enslaved black populations, free coloureds, and whites in the territories of St. Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada and the Grenadines, highlights how the law has been used to initiate social engineering of slave society in a significant period of Caribbean history.

The book which was first published in 2007 with the ISBN 976-8189-27-4 diverts its focus on the nature of the slave society and its development in the four ceded Islands to Britain by France. This book is the first attempt to analyse the nature of the slave society in these four communities during sixty critical years of slavery in the Caribbean. It further examines the economic, political, social, religious and legal organisation of society against a background of initial economic decline and shows how it was affected by total dependence upon the institution of Negro Slavery. Focusing on the period 1763 to 1823, Marshall compiles together the history of these Windward Islands to build our understanding of their place in imperial competition for wealth and power between the French and the British by exploiting the poor. He analyses the social structure of their populations and the relationships among the various groups and discusses the nature of resistance of the enslaved population, particularly the maroons of Jamaica.

Even though this is a local case study, it is an important contribution to the history of slavery in the Caribbean and in the New World in general. Bernard crafted this piece of work by pooling both original documents and contemporary secondary sources at repositories in England to aid in the completion of this expose. Bernard provides irresistible evidence of how the law, far from being an impartial judge of justice, was a tool used by the ruling class to perpetuate the hegemony of the exploitative colonial plantation system and to entrench inequitable power relations in the Caribbean. “In the report of the committee of the Privy Council which investigated the Slave Trade and the condition of the slaves in the British West Indies in 1788, Mr. Reeves, the law clerk of the committee, commented”: “The leading idea in the Negro system of jurisprudence is that which was first in the minds of those most interested in its formation; namely that Negroes were property and a species of property that needed a rigorous and vigilant regulation...” An examination of the Slave Laws in force in the British Windward Islands indicates that they were no exception to this generalisation. In every one of the Windward Islands all slaves were declared real estate of inheritance and widows were dowable of them as of lands and tenets.

To highlight the plight of the slave society, Marshall examined and explored Roscoe Pound’s concept of social engineering in his analysis to justify his thesis that the law was a tool used by the elites to exploit the poor in these territories.

Roscoe Pound has been reserved as the ‘father of sociological jurisprudence.’ Pound regarded jurisprudence as a technology to social problems. He advocated a new functional approach to law and legal technique directed to social needs in which the judiciary would play a creative role....
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