Article reprinted from Cross†Way Issue Summer 2007 No. 105 (C)opyright Church Society; material may be used for non-profit purposes provided that the source is acknowledged and the text is not altered.
SLAVERY – THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT
By David Meager
In the late sixteenth century, because of labour shortages the British and other Europeans started importing African slaves to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations. African slaves were favoured because they were more resilient to the local diseases. Africans were captured by other Africans in raids and then transported to the coast. The slaves were then assembled on the coast by African rulers and kept in holding pens until sold to European ship captains. Once a ship was full, the trip known as the ‘middle passage’ usually to the Americas or the Caribbean, took a few weeks to several months; death rates ranged from 10-20 per cent. On arrival the slaves were sold at auction with about two-thirds working in sugar plantations. By 1807 three million slaves had been transported to the Americas on British ships and by 1867 between 7 to 10 million Africans had been shipped as slaves to the New World.
Although there had been criticism of slavery since the Enlightenment, the British abolitionist movement can be traced back to the late 18th Century. In 1787, a group of twelve men, mostly Quakers and Anglicans founded the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. They included the veteran anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson who devoted his life to the cause. They recruited the MP for Hull, William Wilberforce, to lead the campaign in the House of Commons. Within twenty years of the establishment of this group, the slave trade had been abolished.
How did they do it?
Once the British Abolition Committee was established, abolitionism quickly became a mass movement. Petitions, pamphlets, tracts, rallies, posters, letters to MPs etc, were all used to rouse the conscience of the masses and enlist their support. Consumer goods were boycotted as up to 400,000 Britons stopped buying the rum and sugar that came from the Caribbean slave plantations. Eventually Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade on the 25th of March 1807. Most historians point to a range of causes which led to abolition, including economic interest, colonial ambition or the impact of the Enlightenment, however, it cannot be denied that the major driving force for change came from the Christian abolitionists.
Although the abolitionists emphasised the human suffering of slavery, their main arguments came from a number of key themes drawn from the Bible.
Made in God’s image
Bible passages such as Genesis 1: 26-27 (Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”) and Acts 17: 26 (‘…he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth’) were used to show that all people were made in God’s image and all came from one man, Adam. ‘Africans and Europeans, Pagans and Christians, are all on a level’, wrote Abraham Booth. According to William Cowper ‘the natural bond/of brotherhood is sever’d’ [by slavery]
‘That souls have no discriminating hue,
Alike important in their Maker’s view;
That none are free from blemish since the fall,
And love divine has paid one price for all.’
Abolitionists also pointed to the intellectual attainments of some black converts to Christianity. The writings of Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano were used as examples to undermine the ideas of racial inferiority. They also pointed out that such racial inferiority had its origins with materialistic philosophers such as Hume and Voltaire.
Abolitionists taught that as liberty was a gift from God it was therefore wrong to take someone else’s liberty from them by force or for someone to sell their liberty to someone else. According to John Wesley, ‘Liberty is the right of every human creature.’ The Exodus of the Israelites...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document