Texas Wesleyan Law Review

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In 1772, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, presided over a case involving a slave, James Somerset, who had been brought by his master from Virginia to England and who claimed that his simple presence on English soil made him free. Among Somerset's lawyers was one Francis Hargrave, who was arguing the first case of his career that day. Hargrave maintained that "the Air of England was too pure for slavery," quoting the advocate in a prior case and drawing upon the commonly held understanding that slavery was incompatible with a society of rights, and that it deprived the individual of the very indicia of humanity. Asking rhetorically whether the law of a lowly colony or a barbarous state should prevail over the law of England, Hargrave declared that "[i]n England ... freedom is the grand object of the laws, and dispensed to the meanest individual."



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