The Abolitionists’ Debt to Lord Mansfield

Stephen Usherwood shows how Lord Mansfield employed his precise legal mind and his reasoned humanitarianism to expose the iniquities of slavery - and thus helped pave the way for its abolition.

Please note: this article is from a 1981 issue of History Today, and its language contains outdated terms and descriptions. Articles in our archive remain as they were first printed, and do not reflect the current values of the magazine.

The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.

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