The Campaign Against Slavery

Detail from campaign poster

Parliamentary Campaign Against Slavery


The Parliamentary campaign was a long and complicated process with many politicians trying to delay the abolition bill. It was a tactical game between pro and anti-slavery groups who had to gather evidence for the lengthy parliamentary committees. In defence pro-slavery groups argued that large ports such as Liverpool and London would be ruined if the slave trade stopped.

Wilberforce spoke in Parliament against the Slave Trade for many years and used the Brookes slave ship model to show the inhumane conditions on board. In 1792 the House of Commons voted for a gradual abolition of the slave trade by 1796. This was later blocked by the House of Lords. Finally, in 1807, The Abolition of The Slave Trade Bill was passed in the House of Commons by 114 votes to 15.

Wider Opposition and Public Support


Many people were involved in the campaign to end slavery, from enslaved Africans, ex-slaves and Members of Parliament. Previously enslaved people also wrote accounts of their experiences and spoke to the public, and the lives of Equiano and Cuguano were instrumental in bringing home the first hand suffering of the slave trade.

Granville Sharp alongside Thomas Clarkson, was a founding member of the Society for the Abolition of the slave trade. Thomas Clarkson gathered evidence for the case against slavery, and compiled a chest of items showing the richness of natural and man made resources from Africa that Europe could trade with instead of taking their people as slaves. He also showed the inhumane instruments used in slavery.

Role of Women


Women also played a significant role, and they fought the campaign with intellectual, social and moral arguments. They paid membership fees to anti-slavery societies and were the key promoters of the sugar boycott in the home. Women wore Wedgwood anti-slavery cameos to demonstrate their beliefs. Poetry was also used by women of all classes to support abolition, including enslaved women who opposed their slavery by resistance.

General public support for the campaign and growing opposition to slavery were also important. The public's refusal to buy sugar produced on plantations in the Caribbean was one of the first national boycotts in British history. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 people refused to buy sugar during the abolition campaign.

Commemorative Medallions and Ceramics


Wilberforce House Museum has a large collection of commemorative medallions, many of them featuring the kneeling slave image and slogan 'Am I not a man and a brother', made famous on Josiah Wedgwood's pottery and used as a symbol of the abolition campaign.

Medallions and tokens in the collection commemorate the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade, the 1834 Abolition of Slavery, Apprenticeship, and the 1838 Slavery emancipation. Other medals in the collections celebrate the work of the abolitionists and anti-slavery societies that fought for the campaign. The museum also has a good collection of anti-slavery related ceramics, including figures depicting characters from Uncle Tom's Cabin, and jugs and mugs with anti-slavery printed scenes and mottos.