Connon Donegan


"To degrade a white man by physical punishment is to make a bad member of society and a dangerous political element," so declared the report ofthe three person committee appointed by the delegates to Florida's 1865 constitutional convention. Their charge was to facilitate the drafting of a new legal code in conformity with the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a duly convicted crime. The criminal code enacted in the legislative sessions of 1865 and 1866 embodied the conviction of the formerly-Confederate lawmakers that the State of Florida would continue to uphold and enforce the legal and economic dominance of whites. Among the new laws, known as the Black Code, was a provision allowing juries to prescribe up to thirty-nine lashes, an hour in the pillory, or both as an alternative to jail or the imposition ofa fine. This sprung from their view that, in contrast to white offenders, "[t]o fine and imprison a colored man...is to punish the State instead of the criminal." The nature of the Black Codes passed in Florida and across the South during the administration of President AndrewcJohnson provided radical Republicans in the US Congress the political momentum to dissolve the new state governments, initiating the period of Congressional Reconstruction.

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