Slavery on Trial:
Race, Class, and Criminal Justice in Antebellum Richmond, Virginia

James M. Campbell

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"An invaluable study of Richmond's antebellum justice system."--Sally E. Hadden, Florida State University

"Not only demonstrates the law's clear bias in favor of the power of slaveholders and the defense of slavery, but also gives us vivid scenes of slaves, free blacks, and working-class whites negotiating and sometimes contesting society's class and color lines before the bar."--Gregg D. Kimball, Library of Virginia

By the mid-nineteenth century, Richmond was one of the preeminent industrial centers in the South, with a level of criminal activity that reflected its size. Slavery on Trial examines more than 7,000 criminal cases recorded between 1830 and 1860, ranging from sensational murders to minor misdemeanors.

Although the criminal justice system in antebellum Virginia was explicitly designed to support slaveholders' rule, James Campbell reveals that, in practice, trials and punishments sometimes subverted elite interests. Rather than serving as an unproblematic prop of the slave regime, law enforcement and court proceedings in Richmond revealed class, race, and gender tensions.

Campbell shows that considerations of race and slavery infused every criminal case in Richmond, even when slaves were not directly involved as victims or defendants. He also considers the relationship between judicial processes and social, cultural, and political developments in the city.

Slavery on Trial is a sobering portrait of the administration of racially constructed laws. It exposes the contradictions inherent in antebellum Southern law, and examines the implications those contradictions had for slaves, free blacks, poor whites, immigrants, and women.

James M. Campbell is a lecturer in American history at the University of Leicester.

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"Provides a meaningful addition to our understanding of the antebellum Southern legal system. Its most important contribution is in its assessment of how Richmond's urban setting informed and transformed the legal system, both in its design and in its implementation." Civil War Book Review

"A thoughtful, heavily researched and deftly presented examination of historical injustice." The Midwest Book Review

"Offers an insightful discussion of race, class, and the law in antebellum Richmond. Campbell's research is thorough, and his knowledge of Richmond's legal system is comprehensie. Campbell's complex approach to the antebellum urban South provides useful and important insights." Journal of African American History

"James M. Campbell's thoroughly researched book is a valuable account of the interrelationships among race, class, and gender in the criminal justice system of Richmond, Virginia, during the antebellum period.Campbell's monograph is a rich study, one that will be valuable to historians of the South, of American law, and of American race relations." American Historical Review

"Though questions regarding relationships between racism, slavery, and legal notions remain unsettled, Slavery on Trial argues convincingly that Virginia's criminal justice system functioned in an urban context as a tool of its slaveholding regime. Unveiling the problematic aspects of crime control and racial tensions in an urban-industrial setting, Campbell also successfully emphasizes the fact that these attempts at social control sometimes met with failure due to resistance created by interracial and class tensions." "Will appeal to a variety of scholars and readers interested in the manner in which an urban-industrial setting affected the slave experience." H-Net Reviews

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