New freedoms and political reform

In 1750 the Triangular Trade in enslaved Africans was at its height. Sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations in the Caribbean and North America were bringing great profits to Britain’s businesses and banks. Some of these profits were invested in the entrepreneurs and inventors of the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, in Britain only a few property-owning men were allowed to vote in elections and there were restrictions on religious freedom.

Opposition to slavery grew and became a mass movement in which some British people of African origin played leading roles. In 1807 Parliament abolished the slave trade and, after many slave rebellions in the Caribbean, enslavement in the British Empire officially ended in 1833 under the Slavery Abolition Act. Emancipation did not bring immediate freedom: former enslaved people were still tied to their owners as apprentices for a time. Meanwhile the slave owners received huge financial compensation from the British government during the 1830s for the loss of their 'property'.

Mass working-class movements for political reform, including the Chartists, eventually resulted in all adult men gaining the vote. During this period, freedom of worship was granted to Catholics and Jews.