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Essay: Britain’s Role in the Slave Trade

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  • Britain’s Role in the Slave Trade
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Peak of Transatlantic Slave Trade – end of the 18th century. Though there were other European countries involved during this time, Britain was the key player in the slave trade. In Britain, abolitionists began a mass social movement calling for an end to the slave trade. Once Britain finally abolished the trade in 1807, other European countries soon followed suit.
Gathering Evidence/Informing the Public – Thomas Clarkson
In the early years of the campaign, abolitionists sought out information to present to the public about the terrible conditions of slavery. One of the first to gather facts about the Slave Trade was Thomas Clarkson. He road 35,000 miles, boarded 317 ships, and interviewed over 20,000 people involved in the slave trade.
He would go aboard African trading ships and bring back beautiful goods showing that the slaves were people with creativity. He kept these goods in a large box and used them as a visual aid when speaking to the public.
He wrote a prize-winning essay that spread across the country and impacted the general public’s view on slavery.
Abolition Campaigns/Religious Groups – Hannah More
Quakers were involved in the campaign to end the slave trade. They were a religious group who believed in the equality of all people.
Women’s groups – though women had little voice politically, were able to campaign through literature. One particular writer named Hannah More wrote a poem in 1788 called “Slavery, a Poem.” It told the story of an African women separated from her children as she was sold into slavery.
See the dire victim torn from social life,
The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!
She, wretch forlorn! is dragg’d by hostile hands,
To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
Hannah’s poetry not only depicted the horrors of slavery, but also challenged Britain’s role in this unethical business. Her efforts along with the work of other writers of the time helped to influence public opinion of the slave trade.
Parliament Reform – William Wilberforce
Campaigners ultimately worked to persuade the British Parliament. There was a young member of parliament with fierce religious convictions named William Wilberforce. Thomas Clarkson approached Wilberforce with his Essay on slavery. Wilberforce was heartbroken by what he learned about the slave trade and began working with other abolitionists.
In 1789, Wilberforce began introducing bills to Parliament to call for an end to the slave trade. He gave a speech to the house of Commons in which presented the horrors of the slave trade. He attributed the injustice to a greedy interest that had drawn a film over the eyes of Britain. He closed his speech with these words. “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”
He fought restlessly for years, losing many debates, putting up with opposition and delaying tactics from the other side, but finally, in 1807, Parliament passed a bill to abolish the slave trade. And in 1833, three days before Wilberforce’s death, Parliament abolished slavery itself.

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