Abolition of Slavery in England

We in the United States are very proud of the war we fought that brought about the end of slavery at the cost of around a million people’s lives. However, England, with a far longer history of slavery, was able to peacefully abolish it more than thirty years before the United States.

Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

1787 Medallion for the British Anti-Slavery Campaign

In 1787, a man named William Wilberforce met with a group of anti-slavery activists and became one of England’s most important abolitionists. Their main arguments against slavery were that it clearly went against natural rights, it was inhuman, it was not economically advantageous, and it impaired national security. The first two arguments are quite obvious, but the second and third require more thought. Slaves do not get very much personal motivation from their work, and have very little incentive to work hard when compared to a paid worker. Also, it is often the case that slaves are only needed to work during certain seasons, such as harvest time, but their owners have to maintain them in terms of food and lodging year round. As for national security, it had been thought that the slave trade had enlivened British naval power, but research by Thomas Clarkson (another 1787 abolitionist) revealed that the horrific conditions on the slave ships were killing off England’s sailors and weakening the navy. By 1807, William Wilberforce and the other abolitionists had amassed enough support that the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was passed, abolishing the slave trade in England. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, which ended slavery in England and compensated the slave holders. England was not the only country to abolish slavery peacefully. On the contrary, the United States was one of the few countries that abolished slavery with a violent war, and was among those with the most difficult integration afterwards.

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