John Lawrence (1753 - 1839)
Lawrence is one of the earliest writers in modern times on animal rights and welfare. He called his book, published in 1796, A Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses, and on the Moral Duties of Man Towards the Brute Creation
. (1) It is a detailed account on the horse and horsemanship and remarkable in its day for a chapter entitled On the Right of Beasts
. In this chapter Lawrence implores us to treat animals kindly and with consideration because they are rational, sensible and have souls. As such, Lawrence argued, animals have a basic right of care, which should be endorse by the state.
Lawrence recounts wanton cruelty he saw around him - horses thrashed with whips, cattle with tongues cut out and sheep with feet cut off (all alive) - and says,
I therefore propose, that the Rights of Beasts be formally acknowledged by the state, and that a law be framed upon that principle, to guard and protect them from acts of flagrant and wanton cruelty, whether committed by their owners or others. (2)
Lawrence also expresses that the state should enact laws to protect livestock during transportation and slaughter, anticipating Martin's Act
passed by Parliament in 1822, the first law by a state to give a measure of protection to domesticated animals (see Richard Martin, this chapter).
Lawrence declared that wilful cruelty, as well as vivisection, should be outlawed and he opposed animal baiting. Yet he favoured killing animals for sport - as long as they were subsequently eaten. He also supported fox hunting, in the belief that foxes are vermin, and deserve as predators to be hunted and killed in turn. (But then who should hunt and kill the human predators, or are humans exempt from this logic?) Possibly his acquisition of a small farm and his interest in poultry might have influenced his attitude to hunting.
Very little is known about his life, but he was born in England where he lived and was descended from a line of brewers. For more about Lawrence see the entry Lawrence, John
in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (3).
(1) Lawrence, John. A Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses, and on the Moral Duties of Man Towards the Brute Creation
. T Longman: London. 1796.
(2) Op cit. volume 1, chapter 3, page 123.
(3) Mitchell, Sebastian: Lawrence, John
. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
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