back to article Bootnote: The Land of the Free - Ha!

*Slavery was shown to be untenable under English law (though not in other parts of the British empire) by the Somerset v Stewart case in 1772, some years before American independence. The triangular slave trade in which African slaves were shipped mostly to the Americas was outlawed by Britain in 1807, and thereafter the primary …


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  1. AndyS

    Nice historic comment.

    You could also take the current-day approach of looking at prison population which, at around 1% of all adults, is by far the highest of any developed country, at around 5 times the average (and almost exactly 5 times the rate in the UK).


    1. adam0702
      Thumb Up

      Thanks for the information

  2. disgruntled yank


    For what it's worth, the United States outlawed the importation of slaves in 1810. By the 1840s, the US Navy also was harassing slavers off the west coast of Africa. And it strikes me as utterly idle to quote the 1772 case and ignore the prevalence of slavery in British West Indies through 1838. Thirty years is a longish head start on abolition, measured in the life of a man. (But in the history of nations?

    1. Grikath

      Re: Umm

      Yes... and (descendants of) ex-slaves were awarded equal rights as citizens when exactly?

      1. disgruntled yank

        Re: Umm

        In the BWI, I can't say. In the USA, nominally before universal male franchise in the UK. Practically, it varied considerably. After the end of Reconstruction, the first congressman of color was elected in 1928; were there MP's of color at that date? To this day the USA is not a racial utopia, to be sure. Is the UK?

  3. User McUser

    Some additional points

    The phrase "Land of the Free" dates to 1814 with the poem, and later song, "The Star Spangled Banner" so references to it in regards to the Revolution (as we call it) is a bit of an anachronism.

    The Slave Trade Act of 1807 merely outlawed the buying and selling of slaves - it did not end slavery nor free any slaves on British soil. Furthermore, in 1785, Lord Mansfield (who presided over Somerset v. Stewart) ruled that "black slaves in Britain [were] not entitled to be paid for their labour." It wasn't until 1833's Slavery Abolition Act that slavery was eliminated entirely* from the British Empire.

    Slavery in the United States probably would have ended at more or less the same time as it did in England had it not been for the Cotton Gin. By reducing the time it took to process cotton bolls from hours to minutes, the profits from the cotton industry soared; the labor effort needed for cotton production shifted entirely from processing to harvesting and as a result the number of slaves nearly doubled from 1790 to 1810 increasing nearly six-fold, some 3.95 Million or ~12% of the population, by 1860. This contributed immensely to the creation of the material wealth from which the US *still to this day* benefits. It's also what primarily fueled the resistance to abolition - there was simply too much money involved.

    *Except for slaves owned by the East India Company plus a few other exceptions - though these were ended by 1843.

  4. Thaumaturge

    Yes but...

    I personally think the phrase applies to the Feds not creating the IRS until 1916.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slavery shown untenable in English law by 1772 Somerset v Stewart case? Not sure about that.

    Slavery shown untenable in English law by 1772 Somerset v Stewart case? Not sure about that. says:


    Although popular myth has it that it was Chief Justice Mansfield (the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench) who, in 1772 in Somerset v Stewart held that a slave who sets foot in England is free, the actual distinction goes to Lord Henley LC, who, in 1762 in Shanley v Harvey (1762) 2 Eden 126, 28 ER 844 (HC Ch) uttered the immortal words: “As soon as a man sets foot on English ground he is free”, and to the earlier decision of the Court of Queen's Bench in Cartwright’s Case in 1569, which held “that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in”.


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