The Black Laws
Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio

By Stephen Middleton

“The book is a welcome addition to the literature in the field, not just of studies of slavery and fugitive slavery, but also of constitutional and political history. It tells an important part of a complex story, and its availability to scholars will help to shape our understanding of the history of race and slavery in not only Ohio but the Midwest for generations to come.”

Kermit L. Hall, author of The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States

“As Middleton makes clear, opposition to slavery was not the same thing as support for African American civil rights, and the Ohio constitution, while prohibiting slavery, placed several restrictions upon African American residents, including denial of the right to vote.”

Indiana Magazine of History

“It is sprinkled with sparking insights and should be of interest to scholars unconcerned with Ohio, the black laws, or this era.”

American Historical Review

“Stephen Middleton’s scholarship is superb: he mines nearly seventy manuscript collections in seventeen depositories in ten states as well as about fifty major legal cases and sixty newspapers. He weaves together legal and social history in a seamless narrative fabric in nice chronological order from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to the abolition of Ohio’s Black Laws in 1887.”

American Journal of Legal History

Beginning in 1803, the Ohio legislature enacted what came to be known as the Black Laws. These laws instituted barriers against blacks entering the state and placed limits on black testimony against whites. Basing his narrative on massive primary research, often utilizing previously unexplored sources, Stephen Middleton tells the story of racial oppression in Ohio and recounts chilling episodes of how blacks asserted their freedom by challenging the restrictions in the racial codes until the state legislature repealed some pernicious features in 1849 and finally abolished them in 1886.

The fastest-growing state in antebellum America and the destination of whites from the North and the South, Ohio also became the destination for thousands of southern blacks, both free and runaway. Thus, nineteenth-century Ohio became a legal battleground for two powerful and far-reaching impulses in the history of race and law in America. One was the use of state power to further racial discrimination, and the other was the thirst of African Americans and their white allies for equality under the law for all Americans.

Written in a clear and compelling style, this pathbreaking study will be required reading for historians, legal scholars, students, and those interested in the struggle for civil rights in America.

Stephen Middleton is a professor of constitutional history at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Ohio and the Antislavery Activities of Salmon P. Chase, The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History, and Black Congressmen during Reconstruction: A Documentary Sourcebook.



Retail price: $32.95, S.
Release date: Nov. 2005
384 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World


Retail price: $59.95, S.
Release date: Nov. 2005
384 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World

Additional Praise for The Black Laws

“Black Laws, Middleton persuasively argues, mirrored Southern slave codes.”

Ohio History

“Middleton provides a new story of African-American survival and resistance amid systematic, institutionalized racism. Indeed, historians writ large will marvel at Middleton’s ability to weave together, rather seamlessly, local, state, and national law and politics.”

Law & History Review