Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22




Politics and Repeal of Ohio's

Black Laws, 1837-1849





During the campaign of 1846 the Cincinnati Gazette reported that Democratic and

Liberty men viewed the National Road (40th parallel) as a Mason and Dixon line

across Ohio, as far as the Black Laws were concerned.' That same year a related

proposition, that a person's attitude towards these laws varied according to how

many Negroes he had as neighbors, was voiced by a Whig Representative, T. R.

Stanley from Scioto and Lawrence counties, when he asked:

Who are those that clamor for the repeal of this law? Are they those who will be affected by

its repeal? No sir. In all the eleven counties of the [Western] Reserve, there were, in 1840,

but 592 Negroes. In the single small, hilly county of Gallia, there were 799; more than one-

third greater than the whole number upon the Reserve.2

The Black Laws to which these remarks refer were those of 1804 and 1807. They

required a certificate of freedom and bond for Negroes migrating into Ohio and for-

bade "black or mulatto" testimony in court cases where a white was a party. Later,

after the turn of the century, Robert Chaddock, in his pioneer study of Ohio peo-

ples, repeated the early beliefs when he argued that the legislators' attitudes, in 1839

at least, respecting repeal of the Black Laws depended upon the geographical area

represented by the Assemblyman and upon the numbers of Negroes in his con-

stituency.3 As we shall see, such an explanation is incomplete.

While the details of the political deal by which the Black Laws were finally re-

pealed in 1849 have been well recounted by such contemporaries as A. G. Riddle

and Norton Townshend, the course of repeal attempts before that date has largely





1. Quoted in Herald and Philanthropist (Cincinnati), July 29, 1846. An abolitionist paper elaborated

on the parallel: As far as slavery and abolition were concerned, it wrote, "Brown county is South Caro-

lina, Hamilton is Louisiana, and Warren, Mississippi. Columbiana, Trumbull, Ashtabula and Cuya-

hoga, are Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, respectively, and the National road is

Mason and Dixon's Line. " Anti-Slavery Bugle (Salem), January 31, 1846.

2. Ohio Statesman (Columbus), February 10, 1846.

3. Salmon P. Chase, ed., Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwestern Territory, ... from 1788 to 1833 ..

(Cincinnati, 1833), I, 393-394, 555-556. In respect to the resolution against repeal in 1839, Chaddock

wrote, "An analysis of this vote shows that the demand for repeal came from the northern part of the

state where the people did not feel the evil of the negro's presence. The southern counties were still a

unit as to the wisdom of these laws." Robert E. Chaddock, Ohio Before 1850; A Study of the Early In-

fluence of Pennsylvania and Southern Populations in Ohio (New York, 1908), 85.

Mr. Erickson is Professor of History at Drake University.