The Abolition of the British Slave Trade

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The Driving Forces Leading to the Banishment of Britain’s Participation in the Slave Trade in 1807

British society in the 18th century witnessed a strong abolitionist movement that demanded support and public attention. People began to see slaves as more than objects to be bought and sold and found immorality within slave plantations and slave trades. This movement ultimately resulted in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1806 and 1807, which banned British ships from participating in the slave trade. There were many contributing factors and driving forces, which caused Britain to disengage ships from the British slave trade including the emergence of the Enlightenment, which elicited a humanitarian conscience into British culture. In addition, religious groups such as the Quakers and the Evangelical Christians gained considerable political and social power while promoting values of antislavery. The introduction of antislavery propaganda also encouraged the public to participate in the social movement. Furthermore the presence of international events highlighted the many problems of the slave trade. Lastly, economic shifts questioned the necessity of the slave trade. The emergence of the Enlightenment in the mid eighteen hundreds introduced optimistic beliefs towards the development of science, tolerance, education, and social structure. The Enlightenment, which called for a rational way of dealing with human conflicts, introduced a new social philosophy into the British public. During the Age of Reason, a spirit of skepticism challenged previous traditions and long-held beliefs. Philosophical thinkers such as Montesquieu introduced a humanitarian conscience to the public through many public works. One of the first written attacks directed against the slave trade was called L’Esprit des Lois, which was an “oblique attack on slavery and the slave trade.” In this book, Monetesquieu wrote, “Where it is of the utmost importance that human nature should not be debased or dispirited, there ought to be no slavery”. Montesquieu perceived slavery as an obstacle to liberty, and argued that laws were necessary in preventing the slave trade. Other philosophers influenced the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Raynal. From the Enlightenment also stemmed political figures who had significant influences due to their legal standings. William Blackstone, a British jurist, wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England in which he rejected all necessities for slavery. In his opinion, slavery stood in the way of rationality and civil law. Political figures like Blackstone assisted the philosophers to empower the ideas of the Enlightenment and offered credibility to their position. Many British citizens were sympathetic to the philosopher’s perspective on slavery, which ultimately lead to a transformation in the intellectual discussion of slavery among lawyers, philosophers and political figures. The teachings and beliefs of several religious groups such as the influential Quakers and Evangelical Christians, significantly influenced Great Britain to disengage ships from participating in the slave trade. These religious groups gained significant political and social importance with their campaign against the slave trade. The Quakers, who were also known as the Society of Friends were firm believers in pacifism, which meant that they opposed human bondage. To reaffirm this belief, in 1871 they created a new rule in which any member participating in the slave trade would be banished. In 1783, the London Yearly meeting presented its first petition against slavery to Parliament, which included the signatures of 273 Quakers and Evangelical Christians. This petition stated that slavery was simply incompatible with Christian beliefs as it interfered with natural rights of humans as well as the justice of mankind. In 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed. This society,...
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