In 1804, “Black Laws” were enacted in the state of Ohio. The Congress of the Buckeye state became the first legislative body in the country to enact Black Laws, intended to restrict the rights of free blacks.
The Ohio legislature passed a series of laws to discourage African American migration to the state.
Although slavery was not allowed in Ohio as part of the Constitution of 1803, most African Americans were not treated as equals to white people in the new state. Many Ohioans had come from Southern states that allowed slavery and were not willing to grant rights to African Americans. Other Ohioans were concerned about economic competition from free blacks who might choose to move to the state. As a result of these sentiments, as early as 1804, Ohio legislators had implemented black laws. The 1807 laws were a continuation of these earlier laws.
Two groups supported the measure: white settlers from Kentucky and Virginia, and a growing group of businessmen who had ties to southern slavery. All of them despised blacks. The legislation forced blacks and mulattoes to furnish certificates of freedom from a court in the United States before they could settle in Ohio. All black residents had to register with the names of their children by June 1, 1805. The registration fee was 12 and a half cents per name.
It became a punishable offense to employ a black person who could not present a certificate of freedom. Anyone harboring or helping fugitive slaves was fined $1,000, with the informer receiving half of the fine. On January 25, 1807, these laws were toughened and other states followed Ohio’s lead. The Black Laws remained in effect until 1849.
Among other provisions, these laws required black people to prove that they were not slaves and to find at least two people who would guarantee a surety of five hundred dollars for the African Americans’ good behavior. The laws also limited African Americans’ rights to marry whites and to gun-ownership, as well as to several other freedoms that whites held. The Black Laws and other policies deterred some African Americans from settling in Ohio.
In the late 1840s, the Black Laws became a political issue once again. Members of the Free Soil Party pushed to have the laws repealed and were partially successful in doing so in 1849. The changes in the laws were accomplished in part because Ohio Democrats backed the Black Laws’ repeal in exchange for Free Soil Party support of their candidates in the state legislature.
Ohio Black Codes
Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio , That from and after the first day of June next. no black or mulatto person shall be permitted to settle or reside in this state, unless he or she shall first produce a fair certificate from some court within the United States, of his or her actual freedom, which certificate shall be attested by the clerk of said court, and the seal thereof annexed thereto, by said clerk.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted , That every black or mulatto person residing within this state, on or before the fifth day of June, one thousand eight hundred and four, shall enter his or her name, together with the name or names of his or her children, in the clerk’s office in the county in which he, she or they reside, which shall be entered on record by said clerk, and thereafter the clerk’s certificate of such record shall be sufficient evidence of his, her or their freedom; and for every entry and certificate, the person obtaining the same shall pay to the clerk twelve and an half cents. Provided nevertheless , That nothing in this act contained shall bar the lawful claim to any black or mulatto person.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted , That no person or persons residents of this state, shall be permitted to hire, or in any way employ any black or mulatto person, unless such black or mulatto person shall have one of the certificates as aforesaid, under pain of forfeiting and paying any sum not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars, at the discretion of the court, for every such offense, one-half thereof for the use of the informer and the other half for the use of the state; and shall moreover pay to the owner, if any there be, of such black or mulatto person, the sum of fifty cents for every day he, she or they shall in any wise employ, harbour or secret such black or mulatto person, which sum or sums shall be recoverable before any court having cognizance thereof.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted , That if any person or persons shall harbour or secret any black or mulatto person, the property of any person whatever, or shall in any wise hinder or prevent the lawful owner or owners from retaking and possessing his or her black or mulatto servant or servants, shall, upon conviction thereof, by indictment or information, be fined in any sum not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars, at the discretion of the court, one-half thereof for the use of the informer and the other half for the use of the state.
Sec. 5. And be it further enacted , That every black or mulatto person who shall come to reside in this state with such certificate as is required in the first section of this act, shall, within two years, have the same recorded in the clerk’s office, in the county in which he or she means to reside, for which he or she shall pay to the clerk twelve and an half cents, and the clerk shall give him or her a certificate of such record.
Sec. 6. And be it further enacted , That in case any person or persons, his or their agent or agents, claiming any black or mulatto person that now are or hereafter may be in this state, may apply, upon making satisfactory proof that such black or mulatto person or persons is the property of him or her who applies, to any associate judge or justice of the peace within this state, the associate judge or justice is hereby empowered and required, by his precept, to direct the sheriff or constable to arrest such black or mulatto person or persons and deliver the same in the county or township where such officers shall reside, to the claimant or claimants or his or their agent or agents, for which service the sheriff or constable shall receive such compensation as they are entitled to receive in other cases for similar services.
Sec. 7. And be it further enacted , That any person or persons who shall attempt to remove, or shall remove from this state, or who shall aid and assist in removing, contrary to the provisions of this act, any black or mulatto person or persons, without first proving as hereinbefore directed, that he, she or they, is or are legally entitled so to do, shall, on conviction thereof before any court having cognizance of the same, forfeit and pay the sum of one thousand dollars, one-half to the use of the informer and the other half to the use of the state, to be recovered by action of debt, qui tam , or indictment, and shall moreover be liable to the action of the party injured.