Slavery and the Law
In AngloAmerica Slavery existed in contention with the law.
1700’s Judge Samuel Seueueuell: Selling of Joseph MA
• 1700 was a turning point for slavery in MA, because it was becoming a hub for
the English empire and hence slave populations rose. Slaved flocked to Boston to
supply a need for labor.
• Argues against slavery.
o “All men are sons of God, ipso facto, all men are equal and none may be
o Because slave trade is vile, it must be condemned by law.
o Slave trade is nothing more than mantheft (kidnapping)
1764 James Otis writes in opposition to the Stamp Act, but also the issue of slavery.
• Echoing Seull, “Can it be that Africans, who are also sons of God, may be legally
o Short, curly haired men enslaved, but those which the hardhearted called
Christianhaired are free. There is no morality in this distinction, it is not
legal. It cannot be.
1768 William Blackstone, Enlglish Jurist, publishes Commentaries on the Laws of
• “It is absolutely certain that when a slave touches England’s soil, he is free”
• It was said every lawyer carried Blackstone’s commentaries.
• This single sentence undermines legitimacy of slavery within British Empire.
1772 Charles Stewart, a Scotsman in the colonies working as a customs agent,
bought in Boston a slave named Somerset.
• When his term was up, he brought Somerset with him to England.
• Abolitionists learned of the slave, and helped him escape.
o Soon recaptured, then imprisoned on a ship headed for the Jamaica sugar
o While imprisoned on ship, abolitionists petitioned for a writ of habeaus
corpus, which questions the legitimacy of someone being held.
o So he went to court:
Stewart argues: He is my property.
Mansfield (presiding judge)/ Somerset’s arguement: As soon as a
slave is in England, he is free
Mansfield says slavery is so odious and so contrary to natural law
that for it to exists there must be in the state legislative laws that
support slavery. In other words, it is such an aberration that it must
be explicitly defined to be considered. However, no such law
exists. Therefore, Somerset, and all slaves in England are free. • Makes no mention of America. Probably because they need
American slavedriven economy to prosper.
Hence, there is hope for the end of slavery
1780, John Adams constitution states in article 1 all men are born free and equal,
and possess certain inalienable rights.
• There were slaves in MA at this time
• 1783, Quock Walker (slave) fled from a farm operated by Thomas Jennison
because of severe beatings and because Walker believed he was free. Previous
master (Cauldwell) had agreed with Walker that, at Cauldwell’s death, Walker
would be f