I have an essay review of Lea VanderVelde's very important and exciting book, Redemption Songs, coming out in the Michigan Law Review. VanderVelde examines the 300 freedom suits filed in St. Louis from the 1820s to the Civil War and she changes the focus from the white judges and slave-owners, who have been so frequently examined, to the enslaved people themselves who sang songs of redemption. Obviously this is an important and welcome move, to focus on the humble and their role in the legal system. My essay, "Slaves as Plaintiffs," focuses, though on the harshness of the legal system -- and makes the point that while it is necessary and long, long overdue to focus on the role of the humble, enslaved people in taking action to liberate themselves, that we should not lose sight of the fact that the legal system's central tendency was restricting freedom suits. Thus, while the humble sought freedom, the judges and legislators in Missouri made this increasingly difficult.
One of the people I'm particularly interested in this story is Hugh A. Garland, who was one of the lawyers for Dred Scott's owner until he passed away suddenly in 1853. Garland is someone I want to talk a lot more about very soon, because I think his ideas parallel those of proslavery treatise writers Thomas Cobb and George S. Sawyer.
My essay is part of a series of pieces I have responding to the recent literature that focuses on free people in the slave-owning south, including the article Judson Crump and I have forthcoming in the Mississippi Law Journal, "Cornelius Sinclair's Odyssey" and an essay review of Kirt von Daacke's Freedom Has a Face, which appeared in the Journal of Legal Education.