How did it all start?
The human cost
It was only in the 1760s that significant numbers of Britons started to complain about the human cost of the slave trade. Slavery was an integral part of the economy. Many Britons made their living either from the slave trade itself, or by working in the industries that depended on the trade, such as sugar refining, tobacco trading, and manufacturing metal goods and textiles.
The first important group to oppose the slave trade was a religious group known as the Society of Friends, or Quakers. Nine of the twelve founding members of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade were Quakers. Leaders from other religions were also involved in the campaign. John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, was an anti-slavery campaigner. James Ramsay, from Fraserburgh, was an Anglican minister who worked among the slaves in St Kitts in the Caribbean, later publishing his Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies which brought to public notice the debate about the slave trade.
It is important to note that the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in 1787 to abolish the slave trade, not slavery itself. Abolishing slavery would hit Britain’s economy since it largely depended on goods and materials produced by slaves in the colonies. Also, slave owners would not give up slaves, whom they considered their property, without significant government compensation. Therefore the Society decided that the best way to help slaves in the British Empire was to end the trade in African captives and force slave owners to treat their slaves better.
Experts, such as the Scottish economist Adam Smith, argued that slave labour was inefficient as slaves neither worked as hard nor produced as much as free workers who were paid wages.