Slavery and Liberty – Profit vs. Morality
18th-Century British Writers Speed the Process of Freedom
“By the late 18th century, over eleven million African men, women and children had been taken from Africa to be used as slaves in the West Indies and the American colonies. Great Britain was the mightiest superpower on earth and its empire was built on the backs of slaves. The slave trade was considered acceptable by all but a few. Of them even fewer were brave enough to speak it.” (Amazing Grace 2006)
Discussions of slavery often focus on America’s involvement and the division of the new country – for and against the “peculiar institution” – during the War Between the States. It is important to remember that not only America was involved in slavery. The real reason behind slavery was expansion of colonies by major countries such as Spain, Portugal and England. The empires needed a lot of cheap labor to make colonial plantations more profitable, so that goods and money could be sent home to the mother country. This cheap labor was African slaves and they were also traded as goods, especially by Britain in the 18th century. The British people took great pride in freedom and liberty, but many were hypocrites, owning or trafficking slaves themselves. The treatment of slaves and the casualties suffered during transportation ignited debates and divided the people of Britain. British writers of the 18th century had a big influence on public opinion of slavery, and if the writers had not educated the public about the issue, slave trade would have been socially accepted for a much longer time, fueled by religious arguments in favor of owning slaves and its profitability. John Locke is an example of a British philosopher from the 18th century who took great pride in freedom and liberty. Yet while he wrote about equality and freedom for every man, he was involved in slave trade, just as many of the wealthy British people were. “The degree of Locke’s...
Cited: Goff, Clare. "Anti-slavery pioneers: 25 March 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British colonies. The groundbreaking popular campaign to bring this about began two decades earlier. Clare Goff looks back on what was arguably the first mass political campaign--and argues that those same techniques still need applying to 21st-century forms of slavery." New Internationalist Mar. 2007: 24+. General OneFile. Web. 2 May 2013.
Lowance Jr., Mason I. A House Divided: The Antebellum Slavery Debates in America, 1776-1865. 1. Princeton University Press, 2003. 60.
Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume C. NEW YORK: Norton, 2000. Print.
Movie: Amazing Grace, 2006, directed by Michael Apted, screenplay by Steven Knight
The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 18th Century: Topic 2: Overview
Laurier, Joanne. "Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the struggle to end the British slave trade." International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). (2007) .
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