the slave-trade

Category: Daily Life | Type: Historical | Title: Mansfield Park (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter XXI

Among Britain's great Parliamentary achievements following decades of agitation on behalf of abolition was  to make illegal in 1807 the transport of slaves on British ships. The success of Abolitionism was a bell-wether of liberalizing and humanizing tendencies that would culminate in Catholic Emancipation in 1829 (the removal of civil disabilities constraining Catholics)  and the First Reform Bill in 1832. 

Abolitionism drew particularly upon the Dissenting religions such as the Quakers and within the Anglican Church upon the Wesley brothers and Methodism, before it broke off. Within Anglicanism Abolitionism had a vital ally in Bishop William Wilberforce.  The Wedgwood firm created a medallion worn by Abolitionists (it depicted a kneeling, bound slave asking, "Am I not a man and a brother?" and John Newton, a former sailor aboard slavers, and William Cowper wrote the Olney Hymns (1779), among which was "Amazing Grace."

Abolitionism, which had been gathering force in the mid-18th c., leaped into greater prominence with the Somersett case of 1772. A slave, James Somersett, the property of an American colonist now in England, escaped, was captured. With the help of sympathizers and public donations Somersett mounted a legal challenge to the demand that he be returned to his "owner." It should be noted that there were thousands of black people in England, many servants or workmen. The court found that English common law prohibited slavery, though that law did not extend to the Colonies and could not be forced upon them. However, Somersett was free in England.   

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