Some authorities from the antebellum period to the present have located the source of the American law of slavery in continental civil law codes and hence in Roman slave law. They have been unable or unwilling to connect the brutal system of institutionalized racial slavery that emerged in Virginia and elsewhere in the American slave kingdom with what they have perceived as an open, freedom-favoring Anglo-American legal system and have thus sought an explanation of its legal underpinnings in other jurisdictical standards. Both the absence of chattel slavery in English law and the common law's claimed bias in favor of liberty have often been cited as reasons why it is impossible that English law could be the source of such an abomination.

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