Posted by Krista J. Kesselring, 10 October 2018.
The case of James Somerset in 1772 is one of the most celebrated episodes in the history of English law. Despite the uncertainties about what, precisely, Justice Mansfield said, his decision in Somerset v Stewart was widely taken to mean that slavery would not exist in England. Even if Mansfield had only declared the illegality of the coerced removal of a slave from England, many people—including some enslaved people, in England, Scotland, and elsewhere—thought the decision affirmed that whatever the laws of other nations, whatever the laws of Britain’s own colonies, slavery had no place in England itself. The 1772 decision turned, in part, on invocations by James Somerset’s counsel of Cartwright’s case, a purported decision in 1569 which declared the air of England too pure for slaves to breathe.
The early case is frequently mentioned in the voluminous literature…
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