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Decide promptly, but never give any reasons. Your decisions may be right, but your reasons are sure to be wrong… Lord Mansfield

Lord Mansfield, a third-rate jurist more noted for his pomposity than legal acumen, who is credited with ending slavery in the British empire

Though the heavens may fall : the landmark trial that led to the end of human slavery    Cambridge, Mass. : Da Capo Press, 2005 Steven M. Wise Slavery Law and legislation England History 18th century Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvi, 282 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 259-268) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

The 1772 London trial of James Somerset, rescued from a ship bound for the
West Indies slave markets, was a decisive turning point in history. As in the Scopes trial, two encompassing world views clashed in an event of passionate drama.  Wise has uncovered layer upon layer of fascinating revelations in a case which threatened, according to slave owners, to bring the economy of the British Empire to a crashing halt. In a narrative of Somerset’s trial – and of the slave trials that led up to it – he sets the stage for the unexpected decision by the famously conservative judge, Lord Mansfield, which would lead to the abolition of slavery, both in England and the United States, and the end of the African slave trade.

The characters in this historical moment amaze: Somerset’s novice attorneys arguing their first case; the fervent British abolitionist Granville Sharp who had brought case after case to court in an attempt to abolish slavery; the master’s two-faced and skillful lawyer, who had recently argued before Mansfield that slavery could not exist in England; and finally, the less than impartial judge, Lord Mansfield, whose own mulatto grand-niece, Dido Belle, was his slave and mistress. As the case drew to a close Lord Mansfield, crocodile tears streaming down his cheeks, spoke these words that may have come more from personal shame than the law: “Let Justice be done, though the Heavens may fall.”

Dido Belle, the Miriam of her race, the illegitimate daughter of a British admiral and the niece and mistress of a high court judge, she is the inspiration for his ruling abolishing slavery.


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