In England on June 22, 1772, a 31 year-old man, James Somerset, was involved in a court case. As a young boy in Africa he had been captured and taken as a slave to the new world. His master, Charles Stewart, later took him from Boston to England. The case of Somerset (the African) v. Stewart (a Scot) was to decide now that Somerset was in England whether or not he was a free man or whether Charles Stewart would be allowed to take him to the West Indies to spend the rest of his short life harvesting sugarcane. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield said, “Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall;” and ruled that in England the air is too pure for a slave, and every man is free who breathes it. James Somerset was not a piece of property, but free. The judge said that every man who comes to England is entitled to the protection of English law. No sooner does a slave touch English soil than his shackles fall from him. That was the truth about all men and women on English soil. That was freedom.

That legal decision in 1772 set in motion the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and the US. What a momentous decision: slaves were free the moment they stepped on English soil. Their shackles fell from them at that very moment!

No sooner does the Savior touch us than the chains of our sin fall from us. Then we are truly free!

John Munro

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