Without Life, nothing Matters.
Freedom Suit Series
“Anyone who kidnaps someone and either sells him as a slave or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.” — Exodus 21:16, New Century Version (NCV) ∴
Freedom suits are legal petitions filed by slaves for freedom. Between America’s colonial period and the American Civil War, a number of civil actions were brought to courts of law by STRONG BLACK WOMEN that challenged both the moral maxim and the legal legitimacy of JUST-SUBJECTION 1 and WRONGFUL-ENSLAVEMENT 2 in America. This series of columns will explore those lawsuits and expose lessons that can be engaged by the Body of Christ and the Pro-Life movement today, in the wake of the 1973 United States Supreme Court (USSC) decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
STATE OF MISSOURI CHOUTEAU V. PIERRE AND CHARLOTTE V. CHOUTEAU CASES
“In Chouteau v. Pierre it was held that ‘the system being recognized in fact, it devolved upon the plaintiff, he being a negro, to show the law forbidding it‘ (9 Mo., 3).” 3 In Charlotte v. Chouteau which was argued three times before the Missouri supreme court to settle the status of a negress whose mother was born in Canada, the court each time declared that no positive law was necessary.4 In the final hearing in 1857 it was held that ‘slavery now exists in Louisiana, Missouri, and Florida without any act of legislation introducing it, and none was necessary, for being in existence under the sanction at least of France and Spain in 1803 … it was continued, and was not dependent on any positive law for its recognition.’ 5 It was stated that the existence of slavery in fact was presumptive evidence of its legality (11 Mo., 193).6 The next time this case was tried it was held that African slavery was recognized as legal in the Spanish, French, and British colonies, though no law could be found reducing that race to bondage (21 Mo., 590).” 7
Chouteau v. Pierre (1845) And
Charlotte v. Chouteau (1847) Freedom Suits
“In Chouteau v. Pierre, supra which was a suit on part of a slave for freedom, the court refused to permit a question to be put to a juror, whether he felt in conscience bound to find a verdict in favor of the freedom of the plaintiff (i.e., a negro slave), notwithstanding the law might hold him in slavery, and the refusal was held error.” — Cases Determined in the St. Louis 8
“When the case of Charlotte v. Chouteau came before the Missouri Supreme Court in 1847, Justice [William Barclay] Napton stated: ‘Whatever may be the policy of other governments, it has not been the policy of this State to favor the liberation of negroes from that condition in which the laws and usages have placed the mass of their species.‘” — Robert Moore, Jr. 9
“Slaves are in truth a species of property sui generis [Latin for ‘ of its own kind‘], to be held, disposed of, and regulated according to the laws of each particular state where slavery exists. In all slaveholding states color raises the presumption of slavery and until the contrary is shown a man or woman of color is deemed to be a slave.” — Judge William Barclay Napton 10
While the children of the wealthy founding fathers of St. Louis, Missouri were defendants in numerous freedom suits (Missouri slaves filed petitions against the Chouteau, Cabanne, Sarpy, and Papin families), Pierre and Charlotte brought separate and parallel suits for freedom against Therese and Gabriel Chouteau.11 Both brother and sister claimed that their mother, Rose (“a negress), was born in Montreal, in Lower Canada, around the year 1768 and at a time when slavery in that country was outlawed. 12 According to legal historian Elektra Tig, Esq., “in about 1791, she was taken to Prairie du Chien, in the Northwest Territory. She remained there until about 1794. In 1795 she was taken to St. Louis. Pierre was born in Missouri, probably in the late 1790s, and lived there in slavery for over forty years. It is not clear whether Charlotte was born before or after her brother. By the 1840s, Rose was presumably dead, having lived in slavery her entire life.” 13 In both suits, Pierre and Charlotte claimed that they were free persons because their mother was born free in a country where slavery was illegal and lived in places where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 14 (an ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio, and also known as the Freedom Ordinance) was enforced. Notwithstanding these facts and that both the Circuit Court of St. Louis and the Supreme Court of Missouri (between 1824 and 1837) had previously laid down the law in at least seven (7) slave freedom suits freeing slaves,15 an “ill wind of judicial activism” that meant nobody any good began to blow. In 1839 Missouri Governor Lilburn Williams Boggs,16 the sixth (6th) Governor of Missouri from 1836 to 1840, appointed William Barclay Napton, Esq. to the Missouri Supreme Court.17 Judge Napton was a slave holder himself, held strong Pro-Slavery opinions and favored overturning earlier and lesser courts rulings that might free the slaves in the state of Missouri.18 As an activist Judge favoring the legal institution of slavery in the antebellum South, Napton’s efforts began to show results by the late 1840s.19 So while the courts ruled in favor of Pierre’s 1845 petition for freedom from slaveholder Marie Therese Cerre Choteau, Charlotte’s 1847 petition for freedom from Gabriel Choteau (legally filed under the same circumstances as her brother Pierre) was turned down.20
Interestingly, Judge Napton was an ardent Democrat 22 and one of the founders of the “Central Clique” of Boons Lick politicians who gained control of the Democratic Party in Missouri in 1835.23 As one of the three (3) justices on the Missouri Supreme Court, drafted the Jackson Resolutions 24 at the request of Claiborne Jackson and recorded in his diary that he intended to use the Dred Scott case to bring the principles of the Southern Address to bear on Missouri law.25 Much like the Pro-Abortion forces in the 1960s needed a federal supreme court decision to legalize BIG Abortion in every state, in the 1850s Pro-Slavery forces needed the same to stem the tide of free states entering the Union and the Dred Scott freedom suit in Missouri set the stage for the perfect opportunity. At the end of the day, the other Missouri State Supreme Court Justices agreed with Napton and the focus on fixing the Dred Scott decision was on.26
Open Letter To Black America
LESSON: Anomalous Character Is Lukewarm
A Lesson We Can Learn From The Chouteau Cases
“The Negro cannot win … if he is willing to sell the future of his children for his personal and immediate comfort and safety.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. (“The Living King”, Ebony, Vol. 41, No. 3, January 1986, Page 63.) 27
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.” — Revelation 3:15,16 28
First, even in the jurisdiction of free states in the North, a slave’s freedom depended upon his or her ability to prove that he or she was not a fugitive (i.e., still legally the property of his or her master under the Constitution of the United States of America).29 Second, even when slaves were plaintiffs in their respective freedom suits, their presence in the courtroom seeking freedom (i.e., legal personhood) only affirmed the legitimacy of the institution of slavery.30 Third, the formal acceptance of freedom suits created a state of conflicted feelings towards slavery in the public square, which often countered the will to appeal to the state for the recognition of legal personhood on the behalf of slaves.31 So real was this ambivalence towards slavery that by the 1840s the Missouri Supreme Court had drifted away from its humane and moral line of legal precedent. During this time, the Missouri Supreme Court interpreted at least three (3) cases contrary to the spirit of the law 32 (i.e., the “once free, always free” doctrine upheld by Missouri courts in determining slave freedom suits). So deep was the divide in the heart of the people of Missouri, that by 1850 the Missouri Supreme Court’s heart had hardened to the point, that their 1852 Dred Scott decision was already a foregone conclusion. The history behind the freedom suits of Chouteau v. Pierre (1845) and Charlotte v. Chouteau (1847) makes it clear that when our character becomes anomalous or deviates from truth (John 14:6) to pursue our personal and immediate comfort and safety, we are neither free nor slave. More importantly, we learn that when our self-interests rule our decisions we are lukewarm in the eyes of God and His judgement isn’t far away.
When I think about Black America moving into the year 2014, I recall the fact that in 1960, sixty-one percent (61%) of us were married, compared to only thirty-one percent (31%) of us today and I cried for my people.33 When I read in the Thursday, December 19th, 2013 Guttmacher Institute’s report that Black women have the highest rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States of America,34 I was embarrassed and knew that after 150 years of struggle between the White man and the Black man (Matthew 18:21-35), this was not the kind of freedom our forefathers and foremothers died for. When I realize that Black America is moving into the forty-first (41st) year of legalized abortion on demand in America, with over twenty (20) million Black lives already lost to abortion 35 at a 3,796 to 1 ratio when compared to the number of Black Americans lynched in America between 1864 and 1968 36 I grimace and recoil in horror. When I confirmed the Bureau of Justice statistics for the period from 1980 to 2008 and saw that Black Americans were six (6) times more likely than White Americans to be homicide victims and eight (8) times more likely to commit a homicide,37 my heart sank into deep disappointment and discouragement. However, when I reflected on the silence in our pulpits regarding these life-or-death issues, I experienced an unsettling sinking sensation as Ezekiel 18:20 38 came to mind and I wondered out loud: Could it be true, that biblical accountability is real? Could it be true, that the son shall not be punished for his father’s sins, nor the father punished for the sins of his son? Could it be true, that the righteous person will be rewarded for his own righteousness and the wicked person rewarded for his own wickedness? Could it be true, that God will hold each of us accountable for our own deeds, our own works, and our own words? Could it be true, that the soul that sinneth, it shall die?
Yeah, I think it could.
Brothers, we need to talk.
∴ In my very, very strong opinion, THE BIBLE DOES NOT JUSTIFY SLAVERY. If pastors (christian leaders) of the South taught their congregants to obey the Mosaic laws that criminalized kidnapping human beings, the harsh treatment of servants, the return of runaway servants and without preferring the rich over the poor or men over women, held everyone accountable for their own actions in the public square, slavery would not have existed.
Deuteronomy 24:7 says: “If someone kidnaps a fellow Israelite, either to make him a slave or sell him, the kidnapper must be killed. You must get rid of the evil among you.”
Exodus 21:26,27 says: “If a man hits his male or female slave in the eye, and the eye is blinded, the man is to free the slave to pay for the eye. If a master knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, the man is to free the slave to pay for the tooth.”
Deuteronomy 23:15-16 say: “If an escaped slave comes to you, do not hand over the slave to his master. Let the slave live with you anywhere he likes, in any town he chooses. Do not mistreat him.”
The New Testament speaks equally as strong against the kidnapping of human beings (which is the basis of slavery) as the Old Testament. Please read the Apostle Paul’s warning against false teaching in 1st Timothy 1:8-10 (NCV): “But we know that the law is good if someone uses it lawfully. We also know that the law is not made for good people but for those who are against the law and for those who refuse to follow it. It is for people who are against God and are sinful, who are unholy and ungodly, who kill their fathers and mothers, who murder, who take part in sexual sins, who have sexual relations with people of the same sex, WHO SELL SLAVES, who tell lies, who speak falsely, and who do anything against the true teaching of God.
In 1st Corinthians 7:21 the Apostle Paul directs Christians who are slaves but have the opportunity to become free to take that opportunity. How could a Christian slaveholder, or a legal system based on Christian principles, deny slaves an opportunity that the Bible commands them to take? Here is 1st Corinthians 7:21 (NLV): “Were you a servant who was owned by someone when you became a Christian? Do not worry about it. But if you are able to become free, do that.”
“Perhaps the most compelling argument AGAINST SLAVERY in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which the Apostle asks Onesimus (a fellow Christian) to free his Christian slave.
01. A paradox noted by Edlie Wong in her book “Neither Fugitive Nor Free” (2009), slave states had statutes that provided for slaves to sue for “wrongful enslavement”, based on slave laws that established “just subjection”, page 5 and 153 (http://bit.ly/17xS6Ty).
03. Harrison Anthony Trexler, Slavery in Missouri, 1804-1865, page 59 (http://bit.ly/1d2oDiX).
04. Herbert Baxter Adams, “The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science”, page 241 (http://bit.ly/1el6cYS).
06. Ibid., page 241 (http://bit.ly/1aifths).
07. Ibid., page 241 (http://bit.ly/1cBpOte).
08. Missouri Courts of Appeals, “Cases Determined in the St. Louis and the Kansas City Courts of Appeals of the State of Missouri”, Volume 51, page 365 (http://bit.ly/1cBrG56).
09. Robert Moore, Jr., “A Ray of Hope, Extinguished: St. Louis Slave Suits for Freedom”, Gateway Heritage magazine, vol. 14, no. 3, Winter 1993-94, copyright Missouri Historical Society (http://bit.ly/1ggA2Qg). and Joseph Fred Benson, “Missouri’s Evolving Jurisprudence: A Brief History of the Supreme Court of Missouri, 1821 to 2008” (http://bit.ly/1jZcsfP).
10. Dennis K. Boman, “Lincoln’s Resolute Unionist: Hamilton Gamble, Dred Scott Dissenter and Missouri’s Civil War Governor ” (http://bit.ly/JpJrti).
11. St. Louis Circuit Court, History Records Project, Freedom Suits Case Files, 1814-1860 (http://bit.ly/JFpVsn).
12. Elektra Tig, Esq., “Slave Freedom Law in Missouri in the 1840s: “This Anomalous Character” (http://bit.ly/KfAP9A).
14. Northwest Ordinance, Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/1emaM9g).
15. Elektra Tig, Esq., “Slave Freedom Law in Missouri in the 1840s: “This Anomalous Character” (http://bit.ly/KfAP9A).
16. Lilburn Boggs, Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/1ajd71W).
17. William Barclay Napton, Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/18U4lfG).
19. David Thomas Konig, Paul Finkelman, Christopher Alan Bracey, “The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law”, page 199 (http://bit.ly/1eR9Q1p) and Robert Moore, Jr., “A Ray of Hope, Extinguished: St. Louis Slave Suits for Freedom”, Gateway Heritage magazine, vol. 14, no. 3, Winter 1993-94, copyright Missouri Historical Society (http://bit.ly/1ggA2Qg). Quote: “By the mid-1840s, the composition of the court had changed entirely with retirements of Mathias McGirk (1841) and George Tompkins (1845). Replacing them were William Scott and William Napton, both strong Pro-Slavery men. Within the space of seven years, this new court completely reversed earlier legal precedent regarding slave suits, closing an avenue to freedom.”
20. St. Louis Circuit Court, History Records Project, Freedom Suits Case Files, 1814-1860 (http://bit.ly/JFpVsn).
21. Elektra Tig, Esq., “Slave Freedom Law in Missouri in the 1840s: “This Anomalous Character” (http://bit.ly/KfAP9A) and Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, Volume 11 (http://bit.ly/1h9yw5m).
22. Charles Clark, “William B. Napton”, KansasBoqusLegislature.Org (http://bit.ly/1hQm9c5).
24. William Barclay Napton, “The Union on Trial: The Political Journals of Judge William Barclay Napton, 1829-1883”, page 108 (http://bit.ly/1dPndKm).
25. University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, “Dred Scott – Missouri Supreme Court” (http://bit.ly/1bxxN5Q).
27. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Living King”, Ebony, Vol. 41, No. 3, January 1986, Page 63. (http://bit.ly/JFLLfl).
28. Revelation 3:15-16, King James Version “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (http://bit.ly/1cQYqcf).
29. Edlie L. Wong, “Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel”, page 5 (http://bit.ly/1iqscH5).
30. Ibid., Edlie L. Wong (http://bit.ly/KhpMvW).
31. Ibid., Edlie L. Wong (http://bit.ly/1k1aU59).
32. David Thomas Konig, Paul Finkelman, Christopher Alan Bracey, “The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law”, page 199 (http://bit.ly/19AFbhl).
33. Star Parker, “Overreliance on entitlements harms U.S.” (http://bit.ly/1fWCgU8).
34. Guttmacher Institute, “Unintended Pregnancy Remains A Persistent Problem In The United States; Disparities By Income Continue To Grow” (http://bit.ly/1l18Sx5).
35. LaVerne Tolbert, Ph.D., “Over 20 Million Aborted: Why Planned Parenthood Targets The Inner-City” (http://bit.ly/18Un76F).
36. Dennis M. Howard, “The Abortion Index” (http://bit.ly/18oqGSm).
37. Star Parker, “Preserve Gun Rights, Save Black Lives” (http://bit.ly/1fWEe71).
38. Ezekiel 18:20, King James Version “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (http://bit.ly/1d4djmx).