Though the Heavens May Fall: The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery

Overview

The case of James Somerset, an escaped slave, in June of 1772 in London's Westminster Hall was a decisive turning point in human history. Steven Wise has uncovered fascinating new revelations in this case, which statesmen of the time threatened would bring the economy of the British Empire to a crashing halt. In a gripping, hour-by-hour narrative of the trial and the inflamed participants, Wise leads the reader to the extraordinary and unexpected decision by the great conservative judge, Lord Mansfield, which led...

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Overview

The case of James Somerset, an escaped slave, in June of 1772 in London's Westminster Hall was a decisive turning point in human history. Steven Wise has uncovered fascinating new revelations in this case, which statesmen of the time threatened would bring the economy of the British Empire to a crashing halt. In a gripping, hour-by-hour narrative of the trial and the inflamed participants, Wise leads the reader to the extraordinary and unexpected decision by the great conservative judge, Lord Mansfield, which led to the United States' own abolition movement. As the case drew to a close, and defenders of slavery pleaded with him to maintain the system, Mansfield's reply has resounded down through more than two centuries: "Let Justice be done, though the Heavens may fall."

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Editorial Reviews

Marilynne Robinson
Wise, the president of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, traces with reverent care how the question of the legality of slavery developed within England, culminating in this famous trial.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
Legal historian Wise examines how 18th-century English abolitionists created legal arguments to challenge slavery. Granville Sharp was a leading abolitionist whose legal failures and eventual success are analyzed here in the context of 18th-century English law and common-law precedents. Wise emphasizes two cases, Lewis v. Stapylton (1771) and the trial of James Somerset (1772). In the latter case, Wise examines Lord Chief Justice Mansfield's legal course to declaring slavery in England as immoral and illegal since it was wrong to treat human beings as property. Wise shows how Mansfield could interpret common law to meet the changing needs of society. Wise uses historical analysis to draw connections between these cases and later U.S. activities concerning freedom in the American Revolution and Civil War. This thoughtful analysis provides an underpinning for the social and legal context of slavery, making this a recommended book for academic and larger public libraries.-Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306814501
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 12/14/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 705,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven M. Wise, J.D., has practiced animal law for over twenty years and has taught at the Harvard, Vermont, and John Marshall law schools. He is President of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, which he founded in 1995. The author of Rattling the Cage, praised by Cass Sunstein as "an impassioned, fascinating, and in many ways startling book" (New York Times Book Review), and Drawing the Line, which Nature called "provocative and disturbing," he has been profiled nationally by such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine.

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Table of Contents

1 From Africa to Westminster Hall 1
2 Black slaves in England 13
3 Granville Sharp meets Jonathan Strong 21
4 Granville Sharp, abolitionist 31
5 John Hylas : the test 45
6 The next test : Thomas Lewis 59
7 Lord Mansfield 69
8 Lewis v. Stapylton begins 81
9 Sharp fails, again 97
10 The struggle for the body of James Somerset 111
11 Lord Mansfield is deceived 127
12 Upon what principle is it that a man can become a dog for another man? 135
13 Fluorishing away on the side of liberty 145
14 The death of the joint opinion 155
15 All we can do is declare the law 169
16 The Mansfield judgment 179
17 Versions of the Mansfield judgment 185
18 Ripples of liberty 193
19 Second thoughts? 205
20 The beginning of the end of human slavery 217
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