The Precedents and the Pressures
FOR three-quarters of a century before the outbreak of the American Civil War, emancipation was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, France, Spain, Russia, and elsewhere there was talk of emancipation. Some urged it for purely humanitarian reasons. Other supporters were motivated by political and economic considerations. The new revolutionary philosophies were making demands not only for the political independence of the colonies of Europe, but also for the complete freedom of the human body and spirit.
As the European colonies in the New World opened their drive to cast off the yoke that held them to the mother country, they sought to bring consistency to their crusade by speaking out against slavery. Everywhere the climate was conducive to a consideration of the problem of human freedom. And the United States, a participant inthe discussion, could hardly have escaped the impact and influence of developments elsewhere, even if she had tried.
"Slaves cannot breathe in England," the poet William Cowper said in 1783. A recent authority hassuggested that Cowper was employing the license to which apoet is entitled.1 In 1772 Lord Mansfield, in the celebrated Somersett case, declared that slavery was too odious to existin