Fathers of Conscience examines high-court decisions
in the antebellum South that involved wills in which white male
planters bequeathed property, freedom, or both to women of color
and their mixed-race children. These men, whose wills were
contested by their white relatives, had used trusts and estates law
to give their slave partners and children official recognition and
thus circumvent the law of slavery. The will contests that followed
determined whether that elevated status would be approved or denied
by courts of law.
Bernie D. Jones argues that these will contests indicated a
struggle within the elite over race, gender, and class issues--over
questions of social mores and who was truly family. Judges thus
acted as umpires after a man's death, deciding whether to permit
his attempts to provide for his slave partner and family. Her
analysis of these differing judicial opinions on inheritance rights
for slave partners makes an important contribution to the
literature on the law of slavery in the United States.
Subjects: Law, History
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