About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

17 Animal L. 1 (2010-2011)
Legal Personhood and the Nonhuman Rights Project

handle is hein.journals/anim17 and id is 7 raw text is: INTRODUCTION
Steven M. Wise*
The defining moment for the eighteenth century slave James Som-
erset was when he became legally visible.' He was a legal thing when
he landed in England in 1769, having been captured as a boy in Africa,
then sold to a merchant in Virginia, Charles Steuart, for whom he
slaved for two decades.2 As a legal thing, James Somerset existed in
law for the sake of Charles Steuart, for legal things, living and inani-
mate, exist in law solely for the sakes of legal persons. They are invisi-
ble to civil judges in their own rights.3 Only legal persons count in
courtrooms, or can be legally seen, for only they exist in law for their
own benefits.4 Legal personhood is the capacity to possess at least one
legal right; accordingly, one who possesses at least one legal right is a
legal person.5 James Somerset's legal transubstantiation from thing to
* @ Steven M. Wise 2010. Steven M. Wise is President of the Center for the Expan-
sion of Fundamental Rights, Inc. and directs its Nonhuman Rights Project, of which this
Article is a part. The author of numerous books and articles on animal rights jurispru-
dence, he currently teaches the subject at Lewis & Clark, University of Miami, St.
Thomas, and Vermont Law Schools.
1 Steven M. Wise, Though the Heavens May Fall: The Landmark Trial That Led to
the End of Human Slavery IX (Da Capo Press 2005) [hereinafter Wise, Though the
Heavens May Fall].
2 Id. at XIII, 1-2.
3 Id. at IX.
4 Id.
5 Steven M. Wise, Hardly a Revolution-The Eligibility of Nonhuman Animals for
Dignity-Rights in a Liberal Democracy, 22 Vt. L. Rev. 793, 795 (1998) [hereinafter Wise,
Hardly a Revolution]. Wesley Hohfeld, whose analysis of legal rights remains the stan-
dard model, emphasized that a legal right involves two legal persons. Id. at 800-01; see
generally Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Ju-
dicial Reasoning (Walter Wheeler Cook ed., Greenwood Press 1978). In my analysis of
Hohfeld's work, I identified four types of legal rights: (1) liberties (Isaiah Berlin would
famously identify two prominent concepts of liberties: negative, or freedom from, and


What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most