Rising Tensions  Act of Marriage


North Carolina marriage laws drew heavily upon English Common Law tradition of coverture. By this principle, a woman who married assumed the identity of her husband. Considered dependant, a feme covert possessed few rights more than a child. After the Civil War, the North Carolina legislature reformed some laws related to married women’s rights in regard to contracts, free trader privileges and property. But one significant postbellum law strictly prohibited marriages between “ a white person and a negro or Indian, or between a white person and a person of negro or Indian descent.” Known as the anti-miscegenation statute, this law served as the basis of numerous court opinions in later decades.

While marriage laws established the rules and rights of husbands and wives, divorce laws determined the boundaries of behavior within a marriage. Postbellum divorce laws represent expectations that were deeply gendered.

How does the North Carolina Supreme Court case, State v. A. B. Rhodes (1868) reveal the court’s interpretation of the marriage contract?