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What effect did the passing of the Code Noir have on slavery in the French colonial empire?
Tamia Gabriel


Section A: Plan of Investigation
The subject of this investigation is: What effect did the passing of the Code Noir have
on slavery in the French colonial empire? This investigation will prove this thesis by the
evaluation and analysis of primary sources such as the original Code Noir, and secondary
sources about its impact on the French colonial empire. The investigation will provide evidence
of these effects and develop a conclusion of why the document was written. The origins and
purposes of the Code Noir will be portrayed and help to answer the question of this paper.

Section B: Summary of Evidence
In a society where slavery was the key to life, and slave labor was the engine for
economy, the Code Noir was significant in that it regulated social, religious and property
relationships between all classes (Palmer 363). The origin of the slave trade was characterized by
the struggle between English, French and Spanish for possession (Breathett 278). The laws
specially passed concerning the slave trade and the Negro slave were generally known as Le
Code Noir, the Black Code, although some of the laws also effects other objects than the blacks
(Riddell 321) The Codes sixty articles regulated the life, death, purchase, religion, and treatment
of slaves by their masters in all French colonies (Buchannan). The laws were important in that
they were designed to ameliorate slavery at a time when the political and economic climate
warranted France (Moitt 108). The slavery laws have several roman attributes (Palmer 364).
Roman law in the north of France was a subsidiary system ready to fill gaps where customs and
edicts were silent, yet it had never been called upon in the past as a source of slavery regulation
(Palmer 366). The wider significance of this Article, beyond the Antilles and the Code Noir, lies

in this claim of the great impact of Roman slave law even in the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch-
America societies that were based on very different, even racist, principles (Watson 1041).
Law deprived the slaves of all rights, rendering them utterly subject to the will of the masters
(Malvasi 61). There is an understanding that the black presence was an issue for eighteenth
century French administrators and is a concern in our present understanding of the origins of the
modern concepts of freedom and race (Chatman 144). The Code Noir defined a person as a
slave (Palmer 364). Article 36 of the Code Noir prescribed that fugitive slaves who remained at
large for a month should have their ears cut off and be branded on one shoulder with fleur de lis
(Moitt 137). The articles included regulations that the slaves were authorized to follow (Girard
265). The infamous Code Noir served as the basis of the law of slavery in Saint- Domingue and
the other French plantation colonies (Girard 265).

Section C: Evaluation of Sources
The origins and the Authors of the Code Noir, written by Vernon Palmer, provides an
efficient description of The Code Noir itself, its intentions and reason for being published, and
effects it had on the French colonies. The source was written in 1996. Palmer can be credited as a
specialist in French and European law who is successful in many programs at Tulane University.
Palmer created this source as a way to compare the positions of Professors Watson and Baade,
two notable professors who have associated their knowledge and opinions with the codes effects
on French colonies. This was his attempt to analyze the origins and authors of the Code Noir.
This source was useful to the research in this paper because, it provided valuable information
about the laws itself. It demonstrated accurate and efficient descriptions of the articles of the

Code Noir, and how it was applied to slavery. This source also provided some challenges.
Considering the author and I had two different approaches, it was difficult to interpret the
authors ideas into my own.
The code Noir, also known as the black code, is a primary source written by Louis and
Colbert (the king). This source consisted of articles that stated laws in order to regulate the lives
of slaves in the French Colonies. This source is the most important to this paper. The overall
question of this paper is to understand how the Code Noir effected slavery in the French
colonies. As a primary source, the document provides the appropriate aspects to interpret an
answer for this question. One limitation of the source is that the original document was presented
in French. This causes a problem for any nonnative French speaker, though there are translated
versions such as the one used.

Section D: Analysis
The importance of this investigation is to determine the effect of the passing of the Code
Noir on slaves in French colonies. This effect includes harsh living conditions, strict rules and
regulations and making the slaves seem less of a human. Evidence proves that slaves were
mistreated and did not have the same rules as those of a freed man in the French empire.
Colonies such as Haiti, were being fought over, which caused difficult times for the slaves. The
Code Noir is also nicknamed the Black Code. This evidence can be interpreted as a way to
degrade blacks and portray them as less than human. Evidence proves that Negros were looked
down upon during this era, and were stripped of their rights. Even the blacks who were free
had rules they were supposed to follow. These people were also still seen as less than any other

man. The primary source, the Code Noir, is a significant document in that it provides direct laws
that the slaves in the empire must have followed. The Code Noir states directly the law and the
consequence that follows if the law is not followed. This source also demonstrates the way the
slaves were portrayed. The source distinguishes a free man from a slave by demonstrating that if
one was permitted to do actions stated in the articles they were free. The secondary source, the
origins of the code noir and its authors, is important to the investigation because it provides
valid information about why and for whom the Code Node was made for. Though this
investigation is primarily focused on the French empire, countries such as Spain and England
were compared because of the similar situations they were facing. In the source, The Origins of
the Code Noir and its Authors, Palmer states this similarity and describes how the professors had
manumission-center in their appraisal of the Code Noir (Palmer 366). The Code Noir was a
way to increase regulation on the slaves. Through this investigation, it has become evident of the
importance of these sources. In order to establish the true purpose and origins of the code,
several other sources are required to interpret this understanding. It is proven that other countries
were involved in this movement. The French empire was not the only to have been dealing with
the slave trade nor were they the only to set enforce a set of rules on them. Colbert and Louis
wanted the slaves to remain just that. Slaves were not supposed to have any type of sense of
happiness. They were the source of the countrys labor and income. They put in a substantial
amount of hours, and were seen less of everyone else in the colony.

Section E: Conclusion
In addition to the evidence proved throughout this investigation, it is addressed that the
passing of the Code Noir stripped the slaves of any freedom they initially had. The articles in the

code provide a thorough description of the prohibitions of the actions of slaves. The articles also
provide consequences that will be in place if the law is broken. There are several ways the slaves
were affected by the passing of the Code Noir. Restrictions were set on them, they were deprived
of humanity (seen as objects) and given severe consequences for human actions.


Works Cited:
Pierres, Marianne De. Code Noir. London: Orbit, 2004. Print.

Niort, ean-Franois. Code Noir. Paris: Dalloz, 2012. Print.
Arlyck, OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 17, No. 3, Colonial Slavery (Apr., 2003), pp. 37-
Malvasi,The Journal of Negro History Vol. 85, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), pp. 144-153
Moitt,Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 1635-1848
Palmer, The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir, 56 La. L. Rev. (1996)
Watson, The Origins of the Code Noir Revisited (1997),