The introduction to Gerald Horne’s The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.
It was just past ten in the morning on 22 June 1772 in a London courtroom. And the presiding magistrate, Lord Mansfield, had just made a ruling that suggested that slavery, the blight that had ensnared so many, would no longer obtain, at least not in England. A few nights later, a boisterous group of Africans, numbering in the hundreds, gathered for a festive celebration; strikingly, none defined as “white” were allowed— though they toasted Lord Mansfield, the first Scot to become a powerful lawyer, legislator, politician, and judge, with unbounded enthusiasm.1
Others were not so elated, particularly in Virginia, where the former “property” in question in this case had been residing. “Is it in the Power of Parliament to make such a Law? Can any human law abrogate the divine? The Law[s] of Nature are the Laws of God,” wrote one querulously questioning writer.2 Indicating that this was not a sectional response, a correspondent in Manhattan near the same time assured that this ostensibly anti-slavery ruling “will occasion a greater ferment in America (particularly in the islands) than the Stamp Act itself,” a reference to another London edict that was then stirring controversy in the colonies.3 The radical South Carolinian William Drayton—whose colony barely contained an unruly African majority—was apoplectic about this London decision, asserting that it would “complete the ruin of many American provinces.”4