The slave codes of the antebellum era represent the ways in which slavery came to be formalized as a part of the American legal system in the South. They represent the fact that slavery was so embedded in society that it came to have an entire set of laws to regulate it.
As slavery became more established in the South, every state needed to have a legal system to regulate slavery. There were all sorts of laws that needed to be established. Since slaves were property, could their owners kill them just as a person would be free to destroy a book or a shirt that they owned? What sorts of interactions were legal between a slave and a white person who did not own that slave? When could slaves gather in groups? What sort of permission did a slave need to be away from his or her home and owner? All of these issues and many more had to have laws to regulate them. Many issues were litigated in court. All of this law is known collectively as the “slave codes.”
Slave codes, then, represent how deeply integrated slavery was into the legal system of the South.