Thursday, September 21, 2006

There are lots of laws that sound wacky (don't drive a cow down main street on Sunday, don't carry ice cream in your back pocket, etc.), but actually did have a semblance of reasoning behind them.

But this... this may be the weirdest law I've ever heard of.

[O]n February 18, 1856, Virginia actually passed an act providing for the voluntary enslavement of its free persons of color if they should be so inclined. This seemingly perverted yet bona fide statute provided in part that:

Be it enacted by the general assembly, that it shall be lawful for any free person of color, resident within this commonwealth, of the age of eighteen years if a female, and of the age of twenty-one if a male, to choose his or her master, upon the terms and conditions herein after mentioned.

When any free person as aforesaid desires to choose a master, such person shall file a petition in the circuit court of the county or corporation in which such free person of color resides, setting forth his desire to choose an owner, and setting forth the name of such person as he or she desires to select as an owner; which petition shall be signed by such free person in the presence of at least two subscribing witnesses.

--Byron Curti Martyn, "Racism in the United States: A History of the Anti-miscegenation Legislation and Litigation," pgs 337-38. The accompanying footnote reads:

Va. Acts ch. 46 "An Act providing for the voluntary enslavement of the free negroes of the commonwealth" (1856), in Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1855-1856 (Richmond: William F. Ritchie, public printer, 1856), pp. 37-38.

I... wow.

Although apparently people did petition to become slaves....

And it seems Tennessee passed a similar law in 1857, Louisiana in 1859, and Florida at some point.


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