Anti-abolition propoganda

Vested interests conducted a powerful propaganda campaign to counter the abolitionists.

Slave owners and their supporters argued that millions of pounds worth of property would be threatened by the abolition of the slave trade and that it was necessary to provide essential labour on the plantations.

They suggested that without slavery:

  • the British Navy, the merchant navy, Caribbean colonies and the British Empire itself would collapse
  • the availability of the products of slavery - tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco and cotton - would be put in jeopardy
  • jobs would be lost in ports and industries related to plantation products

They suggested that the conditions slaves worked in were not as bad as the abolitionists claimed. They compared them favourably to the conditions of the poor in Britain and peasants across Europe.

Historian David Olusoga examines artist James Hakewill’s vision of slavery.

Some looked to the uprising in Saint Domingue and argued that freeing slaves was dangerous. In 1797, the politician and historian Bryan Edwards raised this fear in Parliament.

quote
Mr B Edwards said...a bill for the abolition of the trade would emancipate the Negroes: it would do more; it would cause them to rise in insurrection."The Parliamentary Register", 15th May 1797

Books were written arguing against an end to the slave trade. In 1788, William Beckford Jr's "Remarks Upon the Situation of the Negroes in Jamaica" argued that Africans were not capable of the same thoughts and feelings as Europeans, and that their experience was therefore of less concern.

quote
A slave has no feeling beyond the present hour, no anticipation of what may come, no dejection at what may ensue: these privileges of feeling are reserved for the enlightened.""Remarks Upon the Situation of the Negroes in Jamaica", William Beckford Jr

The West Indies lobby employed writers to provide pro-slavery letters and articles for print in newspapers. Other popular methods of publicising the pro-slavery cause included circulating cartoons and illustrations.

David Olusoga unpicks a satirical cartoon from the 1820s by George Cruickshank which targets anti-slavery campaigners.

Even theatre was used to support continued use of slavery. In 1788, "The Benevolent Planters" by Thomas Bellamy told the story of two black lovers, Oran and Selima, who are separated in Africa but brought back together by their owners, the planters "Goodwin" and "Heartfree"

quote
you have proved yourselves The Benevolent planters, and that under subjection like yours, slavery is but a name."The Benevolent Planters", Thomas Bellamy