Slavery was also coming under attack from Enlightenment philosophers like Montesquieu and Rousseau, but it was Christian activists who initiated and organised an abolitionist movement. From the s, the Anglican Evangelical Granville Sharp campaigned with some success in the courts on behalf of vulnerable black Britons — in the Somerset case of , Lord Mansfield ruled that once in Britain, slaves could not be compelled to return to the colonies.
Increasingly, the horrors of this traffic in human beings were being exposed to public view — the most notorious atrocity involved the slave ship Zong , whose captain had thrown slaves overboard in order to claim insurance for their deaths. Once the British Abolition Committee was established in , abolitionism quickly became a mass movement. Thomas Clarkson had worked tirelessly to assemble damning evidence against the trade, and the abolitionists pioneered many of the tactics of modern pressure groups: logos, petitions, rallies, book tours, posters, letters to MPs, a national organisation with local chapters, and the mass mobilisation of grass roots agitation.
There were even boycotts of consumer goods, as up to , Britons stopped buying the rum and sugar that came from slave plantations in the Caribbean. In just one generation, there had been a sea-change in Christian attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. His own father, the famous theologian and revivalist, Jonathan Edwards Sr.
But the practice could no longer be excused. Historians have worked hard to explain the sudden rise of abolitionism at this juncture in history. Some emphasise the impact of cultural change and the new bourgeois cult of sensibility; others suggest that abolitionism albeit unwittingly served the interests of the new industrial capitalism; the most recent analysis argues that the key lies in the anxieties and dislocations created by the American Revolution. Clarkson and his allies succeeded because they produced compelling evidence of the cruelty of the trade, evidence presented to Parliament in a famous report and relayed to a wide audience in harrowing narratives of human suffering.
If religious argument did not stir people to action, why did abolitionists give it so much space? For in publication after publication, critics of the slave trade quoted Scripture and rooted their campaign in Christian values and ideals. In the rest of this paper, we will explore the theological ideas of the abolitionists, and consider the lessons for our own world. Christian abolitionists came from across the denominational spectrum and from various parts of the British Atlantic world. Yet throughout their varied writings, a number of key themes appear again and again.
Abolitionists believed passionately in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. The doctrines of creation, fall and redemption underscored human equality in the eyes of God. The Christian belief in the fundamental unity of the human race clashed with fashionable theories of polygenesis and African inferiority, promoted by infidel philosophers.
The most eloquent testimony against ideas of racial inferiority came from black converts to Christianity. Abolitionists pointed to the writings of accomplished Africans: the letters of Ignatius Sancho, the poems of Phillis Wheatley, and the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano.
Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Working out the logical implications of the text, Equiano argued in favour of racial intermarriage, and went on to marry Susannah Cullen of Soham in Cambridgeshire. Abolitionists believed that common humanity entailed equal rights, especially the right to liberty. Because liberty was a gift of the Creator, men were not free to dispose of it by selling themselves into slavery, nor could they lawfully deprive anyone else of their liberty by force.
Their argument had great appeal.
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O may that god-like deed, that shining page, Redeem our fame, and consecrate our age! The right to liberty was dear to eighteenth-century minds. The Protestant passion for liberty was fed by Scripture. The emancipation of slaves, they argued, was on the agenda of Jesus, and an outworking of his Gospel of the Kingdom. Eighteenth-century Christians were imbued with the values of their age.
Abolitionist preachers urged their listeners to imagine themselves being enslaved. He was left with a sense of outrage. Thinking about the Golden Rule required people to consider how their actions impacted others, including African slaves on the other side of the Atlantic.
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Christian benevolence involved sharing the love of God as revealed in Christ. So as well as fighting for the emancipation of African bodies, abolitionists longed for the deliverance of African souls — redemption was both a physical and a spiritual concept.
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Methodist and Baptist preachers clashed frequently with slave-owners because they won numerous converts among the slaves, integrated them into their churches, and started to denounce slaveholding. By , around a third of American Methodists were of African descent. The rise of antislavery was accompanied by the dramatic growth of black Christianity. For many Evangelicals in the late eighteenth century both black and white , the evangelisation of the slaves went hand-in-hand with antislavery activism. Only in the nineteenth century, as they became part of the Southern establishment, did white Evangelicals in the American South make their peace with slavery.
In a tragic compromise, they started to soft-pedal the social ramifications of the Gospel. If the God of abolitionists was a benevolent deity, he was also a God of justice who would punish unrepentant sinners. This was a fearful thought. But those directly implicated in the trade were not the only ones in the hands of an angry God. But Evangelicals were not alone in warning of collective guilt and national judgements. She became rich, as we do, in the iniquity of her traffick…But what was the sequel? Whilst abolitionist ideas of brotherhood, liberty, benevolence and judgement were rooted in Scripture, the Bible also presented them with a problem, since both OT Israel and the NT church seemed to accept or at least tolerate the institution of slavery.
Abolitionists usually admitted that the Law of Moses did sanction a form of slavery, and that this was legitimate in its time and place. But they distinguished between the perpetual enslavement of Gentiles, and the highly qualified servitude of fellow Jews.
In any case, even these slaves were guaranteed better treatment than modern Africans. Since all men were now to be treated as brethren, the Mosaic ban on perpetual enslavement of fellow Israelites was universalised. But that was not the end of enslavement, even in the Americas. It was not abolished in Brazil until HMS Daphne was often used to rescue enslaved people from slave runners after the abolition of slavery by Great Britain.
Enslaved people who were rescued were often taken to a nearby island where they would then set up new colonies. Son of the South A useful site with lots of enslavement related images and resources. Patented textile pattern by Christopher Dresser. All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3. Skip to Main Content.
History of slavery - Wikipedia
Search our website Search our records. View lesson as PDF View full image. Lesson at a glance. How did the Abolition Acts of and affect the slave trade? Tasks 1. Read Source 1. Look at the names on the document. These enslaved people originated in Africa. Are these African names? Who named them?
How many names do the enslaved Africans have? Which enslaved people are male and which are female? Does their gender make any difference to how they were treated by the court?
Dominica had been a French possession until Which of the slaves have French names? Now look at the charges against the enslaved Africans in Source 1. What have most of these enslaved people been charged with? Dominica is quite a small island.
Edited by Mark M. Smith and Robert L. Paquette
When the first census was carried out there in the population whites and blacks was only 14, What does this document tell you about the scale of resistance by runaways? There are 13 enslaved Africans listed in the document. How many were hanged? Pages Nearly 1 million. Access documents from businesses, governments, and other sources that tell the story of slavery from a unique international perspective. Part II: The Slave Trade in the Atlantic World continues this ground-breaking series by charting the inception of slavery in Africa and its rise as perpetuated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, with particular focus on the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.
This collection features a wide range of materials, from monographs and individual papers to company records, newspapers, and a variety of government documents. Part II is an exploration of the Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath through a corpus of historical printed documents and manuscript collections. It documents the slave trade as a key global phenomenon with ramifications for the study of commerce, philosophical and moral issues, literature, empire, law, government, and international relations.
Part II includes key collections essential to the study of slavery, not limited to: Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa and successors: Records from the National Archives in Kew: This collection covers the period to Ranging from account ledger books in London to day to day diaries of the West African Forts the documents reflect the financial and practical details of the running of an international trade organisation.
The Exploration and Colonization of Africa. The Slave Trade, British Foreign Office, Collection , Confidential Print Series: This collection includes names of slave ships, lists of captains and crews, details of slave ship seizures as well as descriptions of slave conditions in countries worldwide and correspondence to and from African and Asian leaders involved in the slave trade.