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Power and TimeTemporalities in Conflict and the Making of History$
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Dan Edelstein, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Natasha Wheatley

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226481623

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706016.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 18 September 2021

Legal Panics, Fast and Slow: Slavery and the Constitution of Empire

Legal Panics, Fast and Slow: Slavery and the Constitution of Empire

Chapter:
(p.295) 11 Legal Panics, Fast and Slow: Slavery and the Constitution of Empire
Source:
Power and Time
Author(s):

Lauren Benton

Lisa Ford

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226706016.003.0012

This chapter analyzes the temporal dimensions of legal conflicts involving slavery in the early nineteenth-century British Empire. It shows that the pace of judicial actions, from criminal prosecutions of slave owners to campaigns for “amelioration” of slavery, shaped imperial constitutionalism, in particular in crises prompting calls for stronger imperial legal authority over colonial elites. Such crises, labeled here as “legal panics,” prompted metropolitan officials to repeatedly attempt to quell colonial disorder through legal reform, whether or not past reforms had been effective. The chapter illustrates the erratic alternation of slow and fast justice in two cases: one involving controversial imperial attempts to curb planter legal autonomy and the “fast justice” of slave discipline in the West Indies; and the other featuring the imperial response to the use of “slow justice” by planters in Mauritius to parry reforms aimed at regulating slavery. Legal panics focused attention on unresolved questions about the constitutional foundations of imperial rule. The patterns uncovered in this chapter illuminate broader processes across empires that linked visions of imperial legal ordering to the imagination of proper relations of time, power, and justice.

Keywords:   British Empire, West Indies, Trinidad, Mauritius, legal panics, slavery, imperial constitution, slave trade, planters, amelioratiion

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