Clio Edition 4 - page 38

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For more than 200 years, Britain was at the heart of a
lucrative transatlantic slave trading network. As a nation it
profited more than any other from the trade. But by 1783, the
British public had begun an anti-slavery movement to abolish
the slave trade throughout the Empire.
Granville Sharp, one of the leading abolitionists, brought
up the case of the escaped slave, James Somerset, before the
Lord Chief Justice in 1771. Somerset had escaped and been
recaptured in England by his American owner. Fortunately,
Somerset was set free, showing how Slavery on English soil
was unsupported by the law. However, slaves continued to
be sold in Britain and transported on British ships to the
Caribbean.
In the 1780s, the Quakers, under Granville Sharp, began
their public campaign against slavery. At this time, slavery
was still prevalent in Britain, with slaves openly sold in both
Liverpool and Bristol. The Quakers’ protests, along with
parliamentary support, led to the introduction of “The Act
for the Abolition of the Slave Trade” in 1807. Britain was the
first nation to introduce an act making the buying, selling
and transporting of slaves illegal. A year later, Parliament
passed this Act and by 1833, it had abolished slavery in
most of the British Empire. Not only this, but the British
Parliament passed a bill freeing all children under six in the
West Indies in August 1834.
Britain used this international strength and successful
abolitionist protest to put pressure on other nations to
end their own slave trade. They were keen to encourage
By Dunia Mangal
Britain:
A Nation which launched
a movement to abolish
the slave trade
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