Attitudes of British governments

The House of Commons in the 18th century
The House of Commons in the 18th century

Parliament was the only place where laws could be created or changed. Attempting to convince Members of Parliament to abolish a profitable trade would have to overcome two major hurdles:

  • MPs and Lords were men of property - abolishing a profitable trade risked their personal wealth
  • Voting restrictions meant the electorate was made up of wealthy men - supporting abolition could put an MP's political future at risk

The King, the Lords and MPs overwhelmingly supported the slave trade and the prosperity of the plantations up until the 1790s.

There were two reasons behind this support for the slave trade: Empire and wealth.

When considering whether they would vote against an abolition bill, a Parliamentarian might:

  • See the Atlantic slave trade as supporting the British Empire
  • Have direct investments in the slave trade
  • Have investments in the American/West Indian colonies
  • Associate with those who had vested interests in the slave trade
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