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Law School Case Brief

State v. Mann - 13 N.C. 263 (1829)


The Master is not liable to an indictment for a battery committed upon his slave. One who has a right to the labor of a slave, has also a right to all the means of controlling his conduct which the owner has. Hence one who has hired a slave is not liable to an indictment for a battery on him, committed during the hiring. But this rule does not interfere with the owner's right to damages for an injury affecting the value of the slave, which is regulated by the law of bailment.


Defendant John Mann had hired Lydia, the slave of one Elizabeth Jones, and after he chastised her, she ran off. Mann then shot and wounded Lydia. The State of North Carolina charged Mann with assault. The trial judge charged the Jury, that if they believed the punishment inflicted by the Defendant was cruel and unwarrantable, and disproportionate to the offence committed by the slave, that in law the Defendant was guilty, as he had only a special property in the slave. The jury convicted Defendant, and Mann appealed the conviction.


Was Mann liable for battery against his slave, Lydia?




The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed the conviction and found Mann, as the possessor of the slave, was entitled to the same authority as the owner. The court found an owner was not liable for a battery on his slave, or for the exercise of authority, if not prohibited by statute. The court found that for the sake of their own happiness, slaves needed to surrender their will in implicit obedience to that of another. Such obedience was the consequence only of uncontrolled authority over the body. The power of the master had to be absolute to produce the complete submission of the slave. The court found that a slave could not appeal from his master's power and the master's power could not be usurped. The court found it was its duty to recognize the full dominion of the owner over the slave, except where the exercise of it was forbidden by statute. The court found that absolute dominion was essential to the value of slaves as property, to the security of the master, and to the public tranquillity, which was greatly dependent upon the subordination of slaves.

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