Defending the slave trade and slavery in Britain in the Era of Abolition, 1783-1833
Dumas, Paula Elizabeth Sophia
This study seeks to explore the nature and activities of the anti-abolitionists in the era of British abolition. There were Britons who actively opposed the idea of abolishing the slave trade and West Indian slavery. They published works promoting and defending the trade and the institution of slavery. They challenged abolitionist assertions and claims about life in the colonies and the nature of the slaves and attacked the sentimental nature of abolitionist rhetoric. Proslavery MPs argued in Parliament for the maintenance of slavery and the slave trade. Members of the West Indian interest formed committees to produce their own propaganda and petitions. They also worked with Parliament to develop strategies to ameliorate slavery and end British slaveholding, whilst securing several more years of plantation labour and financial compensation for slaveholders. Politicians, writers, members of the West Indian interest, and their supporters actively fought to maintain colonial slavery and the prosperity of Britain and the colonies. A wide range of sources has been employed to reveal the true nature of the proslavery arguments advanced in Britain in the era of abolition. These include committee minutes, petitions, pamphlets, reviews, manuals, travel writing, scientific studies, political prints, portraits, poetry and song, plays, and the records of every parliamentary debate on slavery, the slave trade, and the West Indian colonies. Specific proslavery and anti-abolitionist arguments have been identified and analysed using these sources, with some commentary on how the setting or genre potentially impacted on the argument being presented. This analysis reveals that economic, racial, legal, historical, strategic, religious, moral, and humanitarian arguments were all used to counter the growing popularity of abolition and emancipation. Proslavery rhetoric in Parliament is also analysed, revealing an active proslavery side committed to fighting abolition. Overall, this study contributes to our current understanding of the timing, nature, and reception of British abolition in Britain by showing that the process was influenced by a serious debate.