Slave codes were large bodies of law that were created (both in colonial America and in the United States after independence) to regulate all aspects of slavery and even to regulate the status of free blacks.
Scholars argue that slave codes had three purposes. They were meant to
- Prevent rebellions by doing things like making it a serious crime for a slave to strike a master or overseer or like limiting slaves' ability to meet in groups.
- To regulate race to ensure that free blacks would not have any sort of equality with whites. This helped to reinforce the idea that blacks' natural status was subordinate.
- To maximize the profits available to masters by doing things like making sure that slave families had no legal status and could therefore be split up and sold.
All of the slave states (and the colonies before them) had detailed laws that evolved over time on the subject of slavery. This is what slave codes were.