Enslaved Litigants, Emotions, and a Shifting Legal Landscape in Cauca, Colombia (1825–1831)

Document Type




Publication Date

Fall 2023


This article reconstructs judicial practice in Cauca, Republic of Colombia, through the close reading of two criminal court cases involving enslaved litigants during the early transition from colony to independent state. In 1825, the enactment of laws that created new courts, judgeships, and procedures aimed to restructure and strengthen judicial practice in a nascent republic convulsed by internal division, which would disintegrate politically in 1831. Enslaved people— who had a long engagement with the law since colonial times—litigated in this context of political and judicial transformation in cases about adultery, theft, murder, vagrancy, cruelty, and freedom. This article sheds light on how these litigants were caught in the tensions that emerged between low- and high-ranking legal authorities over conflicting understandings of the role of religious thinking and the use of emotions in the adjudication of criminal cases and their appeals. In addition to drawing from the rich scholarship on slavery and the law in Latin America, this article broadly addresses recent calls from Latin America-based scholars to nourish national historiographies by inserting “the emotional” into the analytical framework. Through this approach, enslaved litigants appear moving through an uneven judicial apparatus in which authorities tried balancing their desire to uphold new procedural rules to create a secular legal sphere on the one hand and their personal religious convictions and status as enslavers on the other.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jsh/shad006

Published Citation

Ángela Pérez-Villa, Enslaved Litigants, Emotions, and a Shifting Legal Landscape in Cauca, Colombia (1825–1831), Journal of Social History, 2023;, shad006, https://doi.org/10.1093/jsh/shad006