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The defence of slavery in Britain, 1823-33

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Benjamin Folit-Weinberg.

Please note this talk takes place in the Bateman Auditorium

“Traditionally, anti-slavery has been central to popular conceptions of the British national story: campaigners such as William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Thomas Fowell Buxton have been celebrated as British heroes and the year 1807, when Parliament abolished the slave trade, is engraved into the national psyche. Yet, for twenty-six years after the abolition of the trade, the institution of slavery itself was maintained and prospered in the British West Indies. Indeed, the campaign for the emancipation of British colonial slaves did not begin until 1823; even then, it took ten years of vicious political intrigue, press wars, and protracted struggle before emancipation was secured. This paper will focus on two aspects of the hitherto-ignored ‘losing side’ of that battle: the defenders of slavery who fought against emancipation. First, it looks at the institutions, newspapers and journals, intellectuals, and statesmen – including Canning, Peel, Gladstone, and Wellington – that formed an active and immensely powerful proslavery network. Second, it looks at the principal arguments employed against slave emancipation: the theological, which justified slavery in terms of Biblical scripture; the economic, which held the West Indian slave system as central to imperial prosperity; and the racial, which argued that slavery was essential for the civilizational progress of the African race. By doing this, and by studying the British proslavery cause for the first time, it will be shown not only that the defence of slavery was central to the political, intellectual, and journalistic worlds of the British 1820s and 1830s, but also that proslavery champions in fact may have won their arguments: when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1833, it was the slave-owners, not the slaves, who were awarded £20,000,000 in reparations.”

This talk is part of the Caius MCR/SCR research talks series.

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