The Antebellum Courthouse as Creditors' Domain: Trial-court Activity in South Carolina and the Concomitance of Lending and Litigation

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Sturm College of Law


Empirical, Empiricism, Quantitative, Debt, Credit, Finance, Secured credit, Article 9, UCC, Slavery, Slave auctions, Ideology, Sheriffs, Chancery, South Carolina, Antebellum, Trial courts


This article presents an overview of trial-court civil practices in antebellum South Carolina. The docket was dominated - entirely during some sessions - by creditors. Creditors used the trial-court procedures to secure collateral by having debtors confess judgment in exchange for agreements by creditors that they would forgo execution and sale as long as the debtor remained in good standing. Today, Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code has replaced this system of debtors' confession of judgment. Southern courts were quite sophisticated in their legal facilitation of credit relationships.

The article presents an analysis of primary, trial-court records of antebellum South Carolina. This piece presents foundational analysis for other empirical work that demonstrates that the antebellum courts conducted a majority of slave auctions and that the risk of family separation for slaves was higher when courts did the selling.