Describe the legal framework of chattel slavery.

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The legal framework of chattel slavery has differed widely in different countries. To concentrate on the United States and colonial America before 1776, the laws concerning slaves were passed in a rather haphazard fashion as the number of slaves in America grew. At first, there were no laws at all....

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The legal framework of chattel slavery has differed widely in different countries. To concentrate on the United States and colonial America before 1776, the laws concerning slaves were passed in a rather haphazard fashion as the number of slaves in America grew. At first, there were no laws at all. Slaves had no rights, being outside the protection of the common law, and were treated like any piece of personal property, meaning that they could be bought, sold, willed, and inherited.

In 1705, following a sharp increase in the number of slaves brought to America at the end of the seventeenth century, the Virginia Slave Codes provided the beginnings of a legal framework, by codifying the principles that were already being applied. A slave was defined as any person imported from a non-Christian country or a Native American sold to the colonists by other native Americans or captured during a raid. These slaves were legally equivalent to an animal or other piece of personal property in the slave owner's possession. Other Southern states had broadly similar provisions. Northern states did not necessarily treat slaves any more humanely, but they had more restrictions on who could be a slave. The Body of Liberties in Massachusetts prevented slaves from being traded within the state but permitted chattel slavery in the case of slaves bought elsewhere or captured in battle.

The American Revolution made little difference to the legal status of chattel slaves. The Constitution of the United States does not make any express mention of slavery. The words "slave" and "slavery" are never used, though several passages can be interpreted as referring obliquely to the institution. The legal status of chattel slaves, therefore, remained broadly similar, with the slave codes of the Southern states subsisting until the Emancipation.

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