Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason

Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason

Book rating: 05 Hardback

By (author) Norman S. Poser

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  • Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 432 pages
  • Dimensions: 164mm x 244mm x 50mm | 980g
  • Publication date: 31 July 2013
  • Publication City/Country: Montreal
  • ISBN 10: 0773541837
  • ISBN 13: 9780773541832
  • Edition statement: New.
  • Sales rank: 133,976

Product description

In the first modern biography of Lord Mansfield (1705-1793), Norman Poser details the turbulent political life of eighteenth-century Britain's most powerful judge, serving as chief justice for an unprecedented thirty-two years. His legal decisions launched England on the path to abolishing slavery and the slave trade, modernized commercial law in ways that helped establish Britain as the world's leading industrial and trading nation, and his vigorous opposition to the American colonists stoked Revolutionary fires. Although his father and brother were Jacobite rebels loyal to the deposed King James II, Mansfield was able to rise through English society to become a member of its ruling aristocracy and a confidential advisor to two kings. Poser sets Mansfield's rulings in historical context while delving into Mansfield's circle, which included poets (Alexander Pope described him as "his country's pride"), artists, actors, clergymen, noblemen and women, and politicians. Still celebrated for his application of common sense and moral values to the formal and complicated English common law system, Mansfield brought a practical and humanistic approach to the law. His decisions continue to influence the legal systems of Canada, Britain, and the United States to an extent unmatched by any judge of the past. An illuminating account of one of the greatest legal minds, Lord Mansfield presents a vibrant look at Britain's Age of Reason through one of its central figures.

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Author information

Norman S. Poser is professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School.

Customer reviews

By Phillip Taylor MBE 30 Apr 2014 5


An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers

If you are an English lawyer, whether barrister or solicitor, you will have heard of the name and fame of Lord Mansfield without necessarily knowing much about him. If you are an American or Canadian lawyer, interestingly, you�¢??ll probably know a little bit more about him but not a lot. But more of that later! It is a pleasure therefore, to review Norman S. Poser�¢??s new biography of this renowned personality rightly described as eighteenth century Britain�¢??s most powerful judge. It is perhaps startling to be reminded that until the publication of this book from McGill-Queens University Press, there apparently has been no full-length life story about Mansfield written in modern times.

Such was Mansfield�¢??s influence on the development of English common law that, as the publishers point out, �¢??his decisions continue to influence the legal systems of Canada, Britain and the United States of America to an extent unmatched by any judge of the past.�¢??

Or, in Poser�¢??s words, �¢??his influence on the law of the English speaking world, evidenced by the fact that the United States Supreme Court has cited his decisions over 330 times, has continued into the twenty-first century.�¢??

It may come as a surprise to some, but not others, that Lord Mansfield has been referred to by at least one historian as �¢??arguably the most famous and influential Anglo-American judge of the modern era.�¢??

�¢??Anglo-American�¢?? might not have been a term Mansfield would have applied to himself. With a reputation as a defender of the existing order, Mansfield was a vigorous and outspoken opponent of the American War of Independence, calling the Boston Tea Party �¢??an act of high treason.�¢?? His militant opposition to the colonists dictated British policy during the 1770s, says Poser, and �¢??led to armed conflict and the loss of the colonies.�¢??

Putting all this in perspective however, Mansfield in most respects was a modernizer. His judicial decisions led to the modernization of British commercial law and the eventual abolition of the slave trade in England -- a stance which would certainly have put him at loggerheads with many of the founding fathers of America, many of whom may have disapproved of the unpleasant aspects of slavery, but who nonetheless owned slaves.

An intensely private person, Mansfield nevertheless loved his busy social life and cultivated innumerable contacts in the political sphere as well as religion, business, literature and the arts. Described as �¢??his country�¢??s pride�¢?? by Alexander Pope, his circle included William Pitt the Elder, Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Hume, and the biographer of Dr. Johnson, James Boswell.

In writing this carefully researched and entertaining biography, Poser has also painted a vivid and detailed picture of the turbulence and intellectual ferment which characterized the world of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. This is an important new book, which will doubtless interest historians and the general public, as well as legal practitioners.

Review quote

"A remarkable portrait of both a man and a legal age. I enjoyed the book tremendously, learned so much, and am deeply grateful. A master work." Kent Syverud, Ethan A. H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor, Washington University School of Law "[An] engaging biography...Mr. Poser offers us a fascinating portrait." Wall Street Journal "[Mansfield's] rulings from the bench shaped British and American law for generations...In the story of his subject's rise from courtroom lawyer to royal adviser, Poser offers a close-up look at English politics of the period, and the details of Mansfield's personal life illuminate the standards of upper-class English society at the time."Library Journal "With meticulous research in sources including the Mansfield archives in Scotland, Poser has produced a brilliantly readable history. Essential." CHOICE "Poser, a New York academic, argues that the eminent politician and judge does not merit his reputation as a radical hero of the anti-slavery movement [...] Poser's book tells the story of a generous and clever man, who read the mood of his times rather than setting out to abolish slavery." - Guardian "In this thorough but highly readable biography, Norman Poser, professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, tackles both the life and legacy of this eighteenth century giant." - Gazette (Weekly Journal of the Law Society) "A new, fresh take on this brilliant but complex man is long overdue and Norman Poser is to be congratulated for his outstanding biography. [...] It's become fashionable in biography, in an effort to avoid hagiography, to debunk such heroic figures, glorying in their faults and foibles. One of the most appealing aspects of this clear-eyed biography is Poser's admiration for his subject. He does not shy away from Mansfield's complexities, his pull between the personal and the political, his ruthlessness, his self-serving rise to the top, but he judges him with wisdom, kindness and fairness, much like Mansfield himself." - The Times