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MASSACHUSETTS QUARTERLY REVIEW.

NO. III.-JUNE, 1848.

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ART. I.-HAS SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES

A LEGAL BASIS ?

We examined in a former article the pretensions of slavery, as it existed in the British North American colonies prior to the revolution which converted those colonies into the United States of America - to rest upon a legal basis. We found in most of the colonies statutes of the colonial assemblies of an earlier or later date, and in all of them a practice, assuming to legalize the slavery of negroes, Indians, and the mixed race; to make that slavery hereditary wherever the mother was a slave, and in all claims of freedom to throw the burden of proof on the claimant. But we also found that this practice, and all the statutes attempting to legalize it, were in direct conflict with great and perfectly well settled principles of the law of England, which was also the supreme law of the colonies; principles which the colonial legislatures and the colonial courts had no authority to set aside or to contradict; and thence we concluded that American slavery, prior to the Revolution, had no legal basis, but existed as it had done in England for some two centuries or more prior to Somerset's case ; a mere usurpation on the part of the masters, and a mere wrong as respected those alleged to be slaves.

Nor is this view of the matter by any means original with us, or at all of recent origin. It was taken and acted

on and made the basis of emancipation in Massachusetts, while the British rule still prevailed in America. The best account, indeed, almost the only original account of the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts, is contained in a paper by Dr. Belknap, printed in the Massachusetts Historical Collections. Dr. Belknap states, that about the time of the commencement of the RevoNO. III.

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