Andrew Fede


Bill Cardoni

For nearly four decades, Andrew Fede has been examining slavery laws in the colonial and antebellum South—how they emerged, how they changed, and how they were influenced by public opinion, politics, and economic factors. Fede NLAW’82, a practicing appellate attorney and adjunct professor of law and political science at Montclair State University, first began researching slavery law for a law school term paper. “The project,” he says, “just expanded and expanded.”

The author of many scholarly and legal articles, Fede recently wrote his third book, Homicide Justified: The Legality of Killing Slaves in the United States and the Atlantic World (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Citing a variety of legal cases, Fede explains how laws evolved to permit, punish, and even regulate the killing of slaves. In South Carolina, for instance, the harshest penalty for killing a slave was a fine, says Fede. After decades of public demand for legal reform, the state finally made slave homicide a capital offense in 1821, and other laws were enacted to further limit abuse by slave owners.

But even as more legal and societal value was given to slaves’ lives, lawmakers were implementing restrictions to prohibit owners from actually freeing their slaves—a move that perpetuated slave culture and reinforced the inferior legal status of slaves, Fede says. His work as a legal historian has given him greater insight as an attorney, particularly when it comes to “how law evolves, and how [lawyers] can bring about legal change when we think it’s warranted—when our clients are looking for change.”