Law and Slave Identity in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson Essays

Law and Slave Identity in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson Essays

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Law and Slave Identity in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson

What is a slave? A slave, according to many of the laws in the individual slave states during the 19th century, was an article of property, a thing, and an object not human. However, according to another, the 3/5 Compromise of 1787, a slave was worth 3/5 of a white man. The population of the Southern states was heavily African, and this compromise enabled them to count those slaves as 3/5 of a citizen in order to get more representation in Congress. What does that mean for interpretations of the law? Can a `thing' be tried for murder, or is a slave a man who has committed only 3/5 of the crime? Unfortunately, laws often have an ambiguity that allows them to be misinterpreted. In the case of American slave laws, the ambiguity was such that the identity of the slave could be misinterpreted or even manipulated to serve unjust social practices.

Furthermore, one of the interpretations of the slave's identity is as a child under the guardianship of the slave master. If this translation were correct, however, the slave should have the right of protection under the law. But as said before, state law claims that a slave is a thing and therefore warrants no protection. The laws of slavery in the 19th century were ambiguous to the point that no one legal definition of a slave or a slave's rights could be made according to the law. Both Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain experimented with this ambiguity of identity and the laws surrounding it in their novels Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson.

The lawyers in Dred and Pudd'nhead Wilson are Edward Clayton and David (Pudd'nhead) Wilson. Both of these lawyers are given the opportunity to interpret the identity of the slave during trial...

... middle of paper ...

...ecting themselves from the bite.

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. – Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar." (Twain 99)

Works Cited

Carton, Evan. "Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Fiction of Law and Custom." Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. American Realism: New Essays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Crane, Gregg. "Stowe and the Law." Cindy Weinstein. The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

"Slavery and Indentured Servants." Law Library of Congress. 9 Dec. 2004 <>.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Ed. Robert S. Levine. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

Twain, Mark. Pudd'nhead Wilson. New York: Bantum Books, 1981.

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