FREEDMEN'S LABOR CONTRACTS
MADISON COUNTY, TENNESSEE 1866-1867

By Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1996

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APPENDIX FOUR
RIGHT OF RESIDENCE

TENNESSEE STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES LEGISLATIVE PETITION
7-1842-1

To the Honbl. the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, your petitioners would respectfully represnt to your honorable body that the Act of 1831 Chapter 102,in our humble opinion is oppressive and that the penalty annexed is out of all reason disproportionate. They would further represent that whilst we fully appreciate the motives which influenced the legislature, under the exciting causes which produced the Act, yet it is well known that the offenders now residing in the state have removed here in ignorance of the law and to enforce its provisions against an ignorant and so far as intention is concerned an inoffensive class of human creatures, would be cruel oppressive and unjust, we would therefore humbly pray for a repeal of the law in question, an indemnity in favour of those who have removed here in ignorance of its existence and that if deemed expedient some other Act be passed more humane in its provisions, more just in its requirements and more equal in proportioning the punishment with the offence. And as in duty bound will ever pray,

JOHN READ
S. E. BARNETT
ROBERT BROWN
J. B. CROSS
JAS. McCLANAIIAN
JESSE RUSSELL

G. H. KYLE
JAMES McKNIGHT
WM. M. TIDWELL
PRAROW BORN
JAMES D.McCLELLAN

THOS. C. REAVIS
JOHN TIDWELL
THOS. COCK
GEO. C. ROGERS
JNO.TONLIN

This petition was presented in the House of Representatives, January 20, 1842 and "laid on the table."

 

On December 16,1831 the Tennessee legislature passed a law forbidding free black persons to move into Tennessee or to reside in the state for more than twenty days. If they attempted to move permanently into the state they would be indicted by a grand jury of the county or circuit courts and fined and sentenced to imprisonment at hard labor for one to two years. (PUBLIC ACTS OF TENNESSEE, 1831, Nashville, 1832, Chapter 102, pages 121-122)

This harsh legislation was prompted by the Nat Turner Slave Rebellion of 1831. Even so, certain enlightened citizens of Madison County, Tennessee deplored this prohibitive legislation as shown in the petition above. Free black persons who were in residence in the state before 1831 could remain if they registered with the county court clerks (and some black Madison Countians, those who were free before 1831 did apply to the local county court for enabling permission), with sworn testimony by whites that they were law-abiding persons. The county courts were granted the right to emancipate slaves and had been so enabled since 1801. Late in antebellum times emancipated slaves had to agree to immigrate to Africa.

A HISTORY OF TENNESSEE AND TENNESSEANS, by Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt, New Yorlc, 1913, volume 2, pages 300-301:

            One of the most drastic bills against freedmen was attempted just before the war between the states, and was known u the "Free Negro Bill." It was introduced during the session of the legislature of 1859-60, and provided that all free negroes, except certain minors who should remain in Tennessee after May 1, 1861, should be sold into slavery. The supporters of the bill admitted that free negroes were free from any master, and could hold property these were vested rights. But, it was claimed, vested rights did not extend to such freer negroes as had assumed a residence in the state after the passage of the act of 1831, as such residence was obtained in violation of the law their rights were natural only. The free negroes had vested rights under the laws but not under the state constitution, and the legislature might repeal the laws and annul their vested rights.
          Those who opposed the law contended that me the constitution per-

 

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mitted no retrospective law impairing contracts, free negroes who had assured secured vested rights, such as to hold property, could not be molested and, owing to their natural rights, those who had assumed a residence within the state after the passage of the law of 1831, and who had thus vested right., could not be ejected from the state by the legislature, such occupying much the same relation to the state as the relatives of aliens. Happily the bill was defeated, the debate closing in January, 1860.

 

With the collapse of the Confederacy and passage of Congressional acts blacks were free from involuntary servitude and had the right of residence as any other persons under the Constitution.

 

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