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Were slaves property or human beings under the law? In crafting answers to this question, Southern judges designed efficient laws that protected property rights and helped slavery remain economically viable. But, by preserving property rights, they sheltered the persons embodied by that property - the slaves themselves. Slave law therefore had unintended consequences: it generated rules that judges could apply to free persons, precedents that became the foundation for laws designed to protect ordinary Americans. The Bondsman's Burden provides a rigorous and compelling economic analysis of the common law of Southern slavery, inspecting thousands of legal disputes heard in Southern antebellum courts, disputes involving servants, employees, accident victims, animals, and other chattel property, as well as slaves. The common law, although it supported the institution of slavery, did not favor every individual slave owner who brought a grievance to court.