[1787] - The Society for the Purpose of Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade established in London

The Society for the Purpose of Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formally constituted in London on 22 May 1787 by twelve members. Although dominated by Quakers, its two leading figures, Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson, were both evangelical Anglicans. The sole aim of the Society was to campaign for the abolition of the trade in slaves. It aimed to establish information and evidence about the inhumanity of the slave trade, and to distribute and circulate books such as Clarkson’s An Essay of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the African (1786), John Newton’s Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade (1788) and James Ramsay’s Objections to the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1788).

The Society quickly developed momentum as its membership increased rapidly. Nationwide tours by Clarkson of the London Committee, and by Thomas Percival of the Manchester Abolition Committee, worked to foment support. In addition, Josiah Wedgwood’s famous cameo of a supplicating slave above the slogan ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother?’ was a resonant and emotive image that became firmly associated with the anti-slavery campaign.

Clarkson’s work brought him into contact with the Member of Parliament for Hull, William Wilberforce, a fellow graduate of St John’s College, Cambridge. Wilberforce became one of the Society’s principal spokesmen in the House of Commons. In 1788 alone over one hundred petitions against the slave trade were presented to parliament. Three years later the first bill to abolish the slave trade was easily defeated. It was not until 1807 that parliament voted to abolish the slave trade and enforce abolition through its maritime power.

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