In 1863 When a Black Man Refused to be Whipped Was He a Murderer if He Killed His Former Enslaver?

Pat Young

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#1
Here is an incident that I read about yesterday set during the liminal period of Reconstruction during the Civil War. It is in the new book Embattled Freedom by Amy Taylor.

Monroe Bogan was an Arkansas slaveowner who, in 1863 claimed to own West Brogan. The problem with this claim was that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed Dennis on January 1, 1863. whose reliance on the whip was growing in proportion to his desperation. Monroe Bogan was a twenty-eight-year-old. He had only recently arrived in Arkansas from South Carolina (so much for "a man's state is his country"). In the 1860 Census he is listed as owning 37 people.

On December 15, 1863, Monroe had chastised West for refusing an order to work and for trying to run off to the Union soldiers at Helena, Ark. According to Taylor:

Their second encounter was then witnessed by a woman named Maria Bogan, who was nursing her infant at the time. She realized something was happening only when children came running into her dwelling, shouting, “Master is trying to whip West.” Maria then went to the door just in time to look outside and see West strike back with an axe. She quickly turned and shielded the children—and herself—from the scene. It was a grisly one: her master was hit on the head and neck at least twice and his head was “nearly severed” from his shoulders. Monroe Bogan was dead.
Taylor, Amy Murrell. Embattled Freedom (Civil War America) (p. 137). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition.
 

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Pat Young

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West went to Arkansas and obtained employment. Two weeks later he was arrested by Union forces and accused of murdering Monroe Brogan. In February, 1864 West was tried by court martial, with no African Americans on the panel, convicted and sentanced to hang. Months later, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele block the execution and ordered a review of the case. Champlain John Herrick advocated for West, arguing that evidence of Monroe Brogran's cruelty toward his slaves had not been allowed to be introduced at trial and that West did not have the intention of killing Monroe, merely of defending himself from a whipping.
 

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Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt became involved in the case and was convinced that West's act was not murder. According to Taylor:

The crucial, most telling detail in Holt’s view was Monroe Bogan’s attempt to whip his slave in the first place; this, concluded Holt, was something “he had no right to do,” thanks to the “changed relations of the white and black population of the Southern States.”157 Relations had changed, Holt argued in a written appeal to President Lincoln about the case, because the Emancipation Proclamation had changed them. The president’s January 1863 order did more than alter the meaning of the war in the abstract; it did more than authorize the freeing of slaves in rebellious territory or the enlistment of black men in the Union army. It changed the meaning of each and every daily encounter between master and slave on the South’s plantations. To hold a man in slavery, and to impose on him “ceaseless toil and cruel punishments,” as Monroe Bogan did, Holt explained, was, in the aftermath of the proclamation, “in violation of law and right.”

Therefore, it was to be expected, even justified, that a man illegally enslaved would do what it took to free himself. The axe West Bogan wielded had rightfully changed from an “implement with which he was quietly going to his unrecompensed toil,” Holt concluded, “into a weapon of revenge.” Taylor, Amy Murrell. Embattled Freedom (Civil War America) (p. 138). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition.
 
#10
It was a killing. For killing anyone is manslaughter, a natural legal standard
that has always been.
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a person without premeditation. A justifiable self defense killing would not be manslaughter.
 
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In 1863 When a Black Man Refused to be Whipped Was He a Murderer if He Killed His Former Enslaver?

No, the former slave was standing his ground against somebody who clearly intended to do him harm.

This event underscores the social transformation of the South. Perhaps just months earlier, it was understood that a slaveholder had every right to whip a slave; and that the man he tried to whip was a slave. But emancipation changed everything.

That's a message the former slaveholder did not get, much to his peril. He was on the other side of a cusp that perhaps he did not acknowledge or even know was happening. In the space of months, the world had turned upside down. And now a man's life was lost, because the chattel property he felt free to control was now a man who owned himself and would defend himself.

- Alan
 
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unionblue

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It was a killing. For killing anyone is manslaughter, a natural legal standard
that has always been.
The law says otherwise.

But, if we go with the stated opinions above, is there ever a time a man may defend himself from a slave master? Further, if we are to adhere to the above notions as correct, is there ever a time it is justified to rise up in rebellion against being enslaved by another?

If that is the case, then we must presume the same opinion must be applied to those Southern States who rose in rebellion over a free in fair election, the nation's natural right to oppose such that has always been.
 

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ErnieMac

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"Two weeks after the murder, West Bogan was discovered by plantation neighbors hiding among the thousands of former slaves in the contraband camps around Helena. They handed him over to Union troops."
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=7627

Sounds like the incident happened in Union controlled territory. Why was West Bogan (and others) still being held as slaves?
An educated guess says the Helena area was occupied by Federal troops in July 1862. Emancipation only applied to areas controlled by the Confederacy as of January 1, 1863.
 

Pat Young

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My understanding from Taylor's book is that Union forces controlled Helena but not the surrounding countryside at the time. In addition, prior to the Emancipation Proclamation the local commander, General Steele, returned some slaves to those whites who claimed to own them. Steele was a conservative Democrat from New York. This material may be found at page 108 of the book.
 



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