Texas Wesleyan Law Review
While strictly speaking, English soil did not automatically confer or restore a slave's freedom, the characterization of England's soil by Englishmen themselves as "free" meant that the presence of a person who challenged his/her continued state of bondage stood in tension with that description-a characterization that was an integral part of common law. That tension could have been ameliorated had there been a statute declaring all bound diasporic Africans unquestionably free. Instead, legal personnel invoked common law traditions, and Mansfield frequently ruled in favor of individual liberty on a case by case basis. Mansfield himself did not focus on the question of slavery (which was, at the end of the day, far too volatile given Britain's preeminence in the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century). Rather, he focused on the question of liberty-a question that potentially privileged free English soil. In the context of the Somerset case, Lord Mansfield proceeded as was his wont, particularly as, having risen through the ranks from Solicitor General to Attorney General and finally to Lord Chief Justice of the court of King's Bench (a series of promotions that could not have been easily achieved by a Scot in England had Mansfield not been circumspect about both about his reputed Jacobite past, and about the company he kept), he was no political innocent.
Transatlantic Negotiations: Lord Mansfield, Liberty and Somerset,
Tex. Wesleyan L. Rev.
Available at: https://doi.org/10.37419/TWLR.V13.I2.18