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Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎11-08-2014

EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

I was just reading that this summer marks the 185th anniversary of Britain's game-changing Emancipation Act finally ratified in 1833.  At last, scattered efforts to end the slave trade in Britain came together.  The Act would have a benevolent, long-acting domino effect, chipping away at the institution and trade in slaves of other countries, and it of course gave momentum to abolitionists in the U.S., even though the end of slavery there was still several decades away.

 

You can't understimate the importance of William Wilberforce (born 1759) in ending slavery, during his time known, despicably, as "the necessary evil".  He was a British member of parliament, who had been leading a rather easy, frivolous life, when a deep faith conviction made him move away from that.  Among other things, he knew he had to do what he could to end the trafficking in human beings.

 

He mobilized others in Parliament, and the determined group became known as the "Clapham sect".  They were up against huge forces, but they kept trying, year after year, decade after decade.  Anti-slavery bills introduced in Parliament by Wilberforce, for example, were defeated for eleven straight years. 

 

Victory, when it came, was all the sweeter.  Wilberforce was an absolute giant of history.  There's way too much about him to include here, but there are a number of great, recent biographies out there that detail his exciting, profoundly consequential life. 

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

Wilberforce was a huge influencer and played a giant role in the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain.  His tireless efforts did indeed contribute to the domino effect abroad for years to come.

 

However, I have read other stories of his work.  Wilberforce founded Sierra Leone.  In the early 1800's some of those freed slaves were provided refuge/liberation by him at Sierra Leone (in Freetown), and were reclassified as "recaptures and apprentices."  They were required to perform forced labor, without pay, for the government and private landowners.  Women were given away, but it's unclear where and to whom.  These apprenticeships were not permanent, they were released after serving a few years, but some went well over a decade. 

 

I believe this apprenticeship system was either implicit or assumed under the original Emancipation Act.  This relocation system established new territories.  So he oversaw the continued practice of slavery, by another name, for years following the abolishment in Britain. 

 

Not to take away his enormous work as an abolitionist, it was powerful amidst a righteous struggle.  But there's more to his story. 

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

I would use a word stronger even than "influencer", @Caaareful Shopper--  he was, along with others one of the people who actively ended slavery, directly through his efforts.  The scope of that accomplishment, given that time, is mind-boggling.

 

I hadn't been aware of an apprenticeship program in Sierra Leone, but found an opinion article in the Guardian by Stephen Tomkins that outlines your points.  The crux of Tomkins' argument is that the abolitionists in parliament knew that one of the original abolition acts, the one of 1807, would not pass without the apprenticeship clause.  So in that case, they kept it in in order to achieve the general leaps toward total abolition for which they were aiming.  The early bills were imperfect, but they kept working toward the "greater good".

 

I don't know if Tomkins points are valid-- I would want to see what the preponderance of scholars have to say on that specific point.  It was interesting to me, that even with that misleading headline, even the Guardian concedes that Wilberforce was absolutely a man of "extraordinary integrity",  with an "implacable" opposition to slavery.

 

I hope to be working my way through some of the excellent recent work on the movement and Wilberforce.

An endlessly rewarding topic.

 

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

@Oznell  I had not read The Guardian, but what I did read also did not seek to diminish Wilberforce's critical and forceful impact on the end of slavery at all.  But along with those facts, I always believe, for the greater good no matter how it all falls in the end, that all information is critical and necessary, with a keen eye on understanding history's good, bad, and ugly. 

 

Thank you for your write-up on Wiberforce. 

Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

So true, @Caaareful Shopper.  I think we can't romanticize, but look critically through the other end of the lense of history.  If what Tomkins maintained was actually factual, then it may have been one of those less-than-good compromises that many humanitarian movements have to engage in to make progress, unfortunately.  But in his case at least, I was made a bit suspicious by the headline, which seemed exploitative. 

 

Now you've got me even more eager to research!  Thanks for enlightening discussion.

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

@Oznell  You always have thought-provoking posts.  Makes me want to keep peeling back the proverbial onion, which is always a good thing. 

 

I enjoyed our conversation as well!

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY

It's my pleasure, @Caaareful Shopper.  Getting to talk on the board with civil, intellectually alert and curious conversationalists like you is what makes coming here very worthwhile!

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Re: EMANCIPATION ACT OF BRITAIN, A HARD WON MORAL VICTORY


@Oznell wrote:

It's my pleasure, @Caaareful Shopper.  Getting to talk on the board with civil, intellectually alert and curious conversationalists like you is what makes coming here very worthwhile!


@Oznell @Caaareful Shopper

 

Being able to have a discussion of this sort is indeed rare, even the most mundane, topic (not that this is) eventually goes East.

"Animals are not my whole world, but they have made my world whole" ~ Roger Caras