Slave “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “slave” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):




A person owned by, and bound to, another [48 Am J1st Slav § 4].



  1. A man who is by law deprived of his liberty for life, and becomes the property of another.

  2. A slave has no political rights, and generally has no civil rights. He can enter into no contract unless specially authorized by law; what he acquires generally, belongs to his master. The children of female slaves follow the condition of their mothers, and are themselves slaves.

  3. In Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia, slaves are declared by statute to be personal estate, or treated as such [Anth. Shep. To. 428, 494; Misso. Laws, 558]. In Kentucky, the rule is different, and they are considered real estate [1 Kty. Rev. Laws, 566 1 Dana’s R. 94].

  4. In general, a slave is considered a thing and not a person; but sometimes he is considered a person; as when he commits a crime; for example, two white persons and a slave can commit a riot [1 McCord, 534; see PERSON].

  5. A slave may acquire his freedom in various ways:

    1. By manumission, by deed or writing, which must be made according to the laws of the state where the master then acts [1 Penn. 10; 1 Rand. 15]. The deed may be absolute which gives immediate freedom to the slave, or conditional giving him immediate freedom, and reserving a right of service for a time to come [6 Rand. 652]; or giving him his freedom as soon as a certain condition shall have been fulfilled [2 Root, 364; Coxe, 4].

    2. By manumission by will. When there is a an express emancipation by will, the slave will be free, and the testator’s real estate shall be charged with the payment of his debts, if there be not enough personal property without the sale of the slaves [9 Pet. 461; see Harper, R. 20]. The manumission by will may be implied, as, where the master devises property real or person to his slave [2 Pet; 670; 5 Har. & J. 190].

    3. By the removal of the slave with the consent of the master, animo morandi, into one of the United States where slavery is forbidden by law [2 Mart. Lo. Rep. N. J. 401]; or when he sojourns there longer than is allowed by the law of the state [7 S. & R. 378; 1 Wash. C. C. Rep. 499. Vide Stroud on Slavery; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.; and as to the rights of one who, being free, is held as a slave, 2 Gilman, 1; 3 Yeates, 240].



A person who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who has no freedom of action, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another [Webster].

One who is under the power of a master, and who belongs to him; so that the master may sell and dispose of his person, and of his industry, and of his labor, without his being able to do anything, have anything, or acquire anything, but what must belong to his master [Civ. Code Law. Art. 35].




  1. A person who is wholly subject to the will of another; one who has no will of his own, but whose person and services are wholly under the control of another. In the early state of the world, and to this day among barbarous nations, prisoners of war are considered and treated as slaves. The slaves of modern times are more generally purchases, like horses and oxen.

  2. One who has lost of the poser of resistance; or one who surrenders himself to any power whatever; as a slave to passion, to lust, to ambition.

  3. A mean person; one in the lowest state of life.

  4. A drudge; one who labors like a slave.

SLAVE, v.i..

To drudge; to toil; to labor as a slave.

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