This paper responds to Holly Brewer's article “Creating a Common Law of Slavery for England and its New World Empire.” Brewer traces a process begun by Charles I, in collaboration with his appointed judges, to legalize the buying and selling of people in England and its Empire. Brewer's work is a much-needed reconstruction of the legal precedents that transformed people into chattel, enabling the business of slavery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yet race does not receive any engagement as a category of analysis. Missing is an account of the historical processes whereby laws about slavery contributed to racial formation. Although the global expansion of the British Empire coincided with a new emphasis on rule of law and equality before the law, bound labor and persistent questions of race, gender, status, age, nation, and boundary called attention to the contradictions embodied in Enlightenment thought and its proclaimed universal values.
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