August 5, 2017


The Anti-Slavery Campaign in Britain (Marjie Bloy, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow, the Victorian Web)

In 1793 Britain went to war against the French following the French Revolution and the cause of the slave-traders appeared to be a patriotic cause: the trade was seen as the "nursery of seamen." Abolition of the trade was postponed although Wilberforce regularly continued to propose legislation for abolition. His moral case was very strong and the evils of the trade were generally admitted. In 1807 the slave trade in the British colonies was abolished and it became illegal to carry slaves in British ships. This was only the beginning: the ultimate aim was the abolition of slavery itself.

In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, European statesmen condemned slavery but nothing was done to improve the conditions of slaves. The campaign to abolish slavery continued in Britain. Wilberforce and his co-workers held meetings all over the country to try to persuade people that abolition should be supported. They discovered that many people were unaware of the horrors of slavery and that others were not interested in something which happened thousands of miles away. They also met opposition from the West India lobby.

After 1830 when the mood of the nation changed in favour of a variety of types of reform, the antislavery campaign gathered momentum. In 1833 Wilberforce's efforts were finally rewarded when the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed. Wilberforce, on his death-bed, was informed of the passing of the Act in the nick of time. The main terms of the Act were:

all slaves under the age of six were to be freed immediately

slaves over the age of six were to remain as part slave and part free for a further four years. In that time they would have to be paid a wage for the work they did in the quarter of the week when they were "free"

the government was to provide £20 million in compensation to the slave-owners who had lost their "property."

In the West Indies the economic results of the Act were disastrous. The islands depended on the sugar trade which in turn depended on slave labour. Ultimately, the planters were unable to make the West Indies the thriving centres of trade which they had been in the eighteenth century. However, a moral victory had been won, and the 1833 Act marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the New World.

Posted by at August 5, 2017 7:56 AM