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Second Draft of Thomas Ruffin's Decision in State v. Mann, 1830


Second Draft of Thomas Ruffin's Decision in State v. Mann, 1830


This is North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Thomas Ruffin's second draft of his decision in the State v. Mann decision in 1830. Ruffin's ruling was one of the most controversial decisions in North Carolina's history as well as one of the most abominable court decisions regarding slavery. The second draft of this decision is important because it shows that Ruffin nearly ruled in Mann's favor on procedural grounds. If Ruffin had used this logic in his decision, the case would have had the same outcome, only without the controversial decision. This is further evidence that Thomas Ruffin used the Mann decision to protect the institution of slavery.


Thomas Ruffin


Thomas Ruffin, "The State v. Mann," in 4 The Papers of Thomas Ruffin, ed, J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Co., 1920), 251-54




Cooper, Blake




Raleigh, North Carolina

Original Format

Government Document


State Vs. Mann
It is to be lamented when such cases as the present are brought into judgment. It is impossible that the reasons on which they go can be appreciated, but when institutions similar to our own exist and are thoroughly understood. Besides, the struggle in the Judge's own breast between the feelings of the man and the convictions of the Magistrate is a severe one—presenting a strong temptation to put aside such questions if it be possible. It is useless however to complain of things inherent in our political State. And it is criminal in a Court to avoid any duty which the laws impose. While therefore Slavery exists among us or until it shall seem fit to the Legislature to interpose express enactments to the contrary, it will be the imperative duty of the Judges to refrain from laying down any rule, which can diminish that dominion of the Master, which is necessary to enforce the obedience and exact the services of the Slave accorded by our law to the owner.
The Indictment charges a battery by the defendant on Lydia, the slave of E. Jones. Upon the face of the indictment, the case is the same as the State v. Hall, 2 Hawks, 582.—That case is considered as settling this question, as it relates to a stranger. The Court finds no fault with the rule then adopted, even if it were now open. But it is then put to rest. The evidence makes this a different case: Here the slave had been hired by the defendant and was in his possession, and the battery was committed during the period of hiring. With the liabilities of the hirer the general owner for an injury to the slave permanently impairing the value, no rule now to be adopted can interfere. The common doctrine of bailment would, no doubt, apply to that state of facts, modified to the emergency. The enquiry is, whether a cruel and unreasonable battery on a slave, by the hirer, is indictable. The Judge below instructed the Jury, that it is. It seems in the charge, to be put upon the ground, that the defendant had but a special property.
Our laws uniformly treat the Master, overseer or other person having the possession and command of the slave, as entitled to the same authority. The object is the same—the services of the slave: And the same powers must be confided. In a criminal proceeding and in reference to all other persons but the general owner, the hirer and possessor of a slave in relation to both rights and duties is for the time being, the owner. This opinion would dispose of the particular case before us; because this indictment, which charges a battery upon the slave of E. Jones, is not supported by proof of a battery upon the defendant's own slave, since, certainly, different kinds of justification are applicable to the two cases. But upon the general question, whether the owner is answerable criminaliter for a battery upon his own slave or other exercise of authority or force on him, not forbidden by Statute, the Court entertains as little doubt. That he is so liable has never yet been decided: nor even, as far as is known, has been before contended. There have been no prosecutions of the sort. The established habits and uniform practice of the Country, in this respect, is the best evidence of the portion of Power deemed by the whole Community, requisite to the preservation of the Master's dominion. We can not set our notions in array against the judgment of everybody else and say that this or that authority may be safely lopped off. This has, indeed, been assimilated at the Bar to the other domestic relations; and arguments drawn from the well established principles which confer and restrain the authority of the Parent over the child, the Tutor over the Pupil, and the Master over the Apprentice have been pressed on us. The Court does not recognize their application. There is no likeness between the cases. They are in opposition to each other and there is an impassable gulf between them. The difference is that, which exists between Freedom and Slavery—and a greater cannot be imagined. In the one, the end in view is the happiness of the youth, born to equal rights with that governor, on whom the duty devolves of training the young to usefulness in that Station which he is afterwards to assume among free men. To such an end and with such a subject moral and intellectual instruction seem the natural means; and for the most part, they are found to suffice. Force is superadded, only to make the others effectual. With slavery it s far otherwise. The end is, the profit of the Master, his security, and the public safety: The subject, one doomed in his own person and his posterity to live without knowledge and without capacity to make anything his own ant to toil, that another may reap the fruits. What moral consideration shall be addressed to such a being to convince him what it is impossible but that the most stupid must know can never be true,— that he is thus to labor upon a principle of natural duty or for the sake of his personal happiness? Surely such services can be expected only from one, who has no will of his own who surrenders his will, in implicit obedience to that of another. Such obedience is the consequence only of uncontrolled authority over the Body. The power of the master must be absolute to render the submission of the slave perfect. I most freely and fully confess my sense of the harshness of this position. I feel it as deeply as any man can, and as a principle of moral right every one in his retirement must repudiate and condemn it. But in the actual conditions of things, there is no remedy. This discipline belongs to the State of Slavery. They cannot be disunited without abrogating at once the rights of the Master and destroying the subjugation of the slave. It constitutes the curse of slavery to both the bond and free portions of our population. But it is inherent in the relation of Master and Slave.
That there may be particular cases of cruelty and deliberate barbarity where, in conscience, the law might properly interfere is most probable. The difficulty is to determine, which is the proper case. Merely in the abstract, it may be asked, what power of the master accords with right? The answer will probably be found to sweep away all. The truth is, that every consideration forbids their being brought into discussion before Courts of justice. The Slave, to remain a slave, must be made sensible that there is no appeal from his master and that his power is, in no instance usurped but is conferred by the laws of man at least, if not the law of God. The danger would be great indeed, if the tribunals of justice should be called on to graduate the punishment appropriate to every temper and dereliction of menial duty. We are happy to see, that there is daily less and less occasion for their interposition. The protection already afforded by sundry statutes, the private interest of the owner, the benevolences towards each other seated in the hearts of those who have been born and bred together, the frowns and deep execrations of the Community upon the barbarian who is guilty of excessive and brutal cruelty to his unprotected slave, all combined, have produced a mildness of treatment and an attention to the comforts of that unfortunate class, greatly mitigating the rigors of slavery and ameliorating the condition of the slaves. The same causes will continue to produce and enlarge the same effects, until the disparity between the numbers of the whites and blacks shall leave the latter without power dangerous to the others when the police now existing may be further relaxed. This result. much to be desired, may be much more rationally expected from the events above alluded to and now in progress than from any rash expositions of abstract truths by a Judiciary tainted with a fanatical philosophy and philanthropy.
I repeat therefore, that we would gladly have avoided this ungrateful question, But Courts are often compelled to act on principles, which outrage individual feeling. This is one instance of it. We are obliged therefore to declare, that, until the Legislature shall otherwise order the Courts must recognize the rights of the owner to full dominion over the person of the Slave, unless restrained in particular instances by Statute. And this we do upon the ground, that such dominion is essential to their value as property and to the public peace, greatly dependent upon their subordination: and while slavery shall continue to exist in its present form as most effectually securing the general protection and comfort of the Slave—Let there be a new trial.
[Endorsed: State vs. Mann.]


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Thomas Ruffin, Second Draft of Thomas Ruffin's Decision in State v. Mann, 1830, Civil War Era NC, accessed February 21, 2024,