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William Murray, Lord Mansfield (March 2, 1705 – March 20, 1793)

“As the usages of society alter, the law must adapt itself to the various situations of mankind.”

Engraving of William Murray, Earl of Mansfield by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1786
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield was an important figure in British law and politics during the Eighteenth Century. Of Scottish descent, he was educated at Christ Church, Oxford before becoming a law officer and politician. As Lord Chief Justice from 1756 to 1788, he oversaw many important cases, including Somersett’s Case, which declared slavery illegal in England and Wales. This quotation comes from his decision in Barwell v. Brooks (1784), a case questioning the legality of suing a married woman who was living separately from her husband, for a contract into which she entered. As a general matter, married women could not be sued; instead suit had to be brought against their husbands, but in this case, Lord Mansfield found that the husband had no liability and the suit could proceed directly against the woman.

As one scholar wrote, “With a clairvoyance that was remarkable, Mansfield set in motion changes in the current of judicial thought that still agitate us today. His whole judicial creed may be summed up by saying that he believed the great end of the law was to do justice. … The law, in order to serve its high purpose, required a continual adaptation to changing conditions.”

Edmund Rawlings Heward, Lord Mansfield 7 (1979).
Barwell v. Brooks, 3 Doug. 371-373 (1784).
Bernard L. Shientag, Lord Mansfield Revisited– A Modern Assessment, 10 Fordham L. Rev. 345 (1941),



Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE – 47 BCE)

“The magistrates who administer the law, the jurors who interpret it – all of us in short—obey the law to the end that we may be free.”


MaBust of Marcus Tullius Cicero by Bertel Thorvaldsen as copy from roman original, 1799-1800rcus Tullius Cicero (106-47 BCE) is well- known today as a politician, philosopher and orator of the Late Roman Republic.  As a contemporary of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Sulla, and Pompey, he was both a participant and an observer in the tumultuous events that eventually led to the downfall of the Republic.  A large number of his orations and letters have survived, giving valuable insight into historical events and a unique view of Cicero’s character. Like many Roman politicians, Cicero developed his skills at rhetoric in the law courts. Several of his orations on behalf of his legal clients have survived.  This quote is from Pro Cluentio, in which Cicero defended a deeply unpopular client, Aulus Cluentius Habitus, against accusations that he had poisoned his stepfather, Oppianicus the Elder.  The case was the continuation of an earlier dispute in which the stepfather had himself been convicted, by a single vote, of attempting to poison Cluentius.  Cluentius was widely believed to have bribed the jury in the earlier case.  The case had political implications and had the potential to exacerbate tensions between the classes.  Cicero cast doubt on the accusation by proposing that his client was the victim of a conspiracy plotted by his depraved and cruel mother.  In this quote and in the rest of the oration, he argues for concordia ordinum -harmony between the orders-a political ideal that became identified with Cicero.


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