The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society 1838-1956: A History Hardcover – 19 May 2016
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'A very readable book by an accomplished author who handles narrative, argument and analysis with admirable clarity. The work of the Society and the zeitgeist which powered it is a remarkable story and Heartfield s is a significant contribution to our understanding of an important strand of British social and intellectual history.' --Richard Rathbone, emeritus professor and professorial research associate at SOAS, London; co-author of African History: A Very Short Introduction
'This is an excellent book which narrates for the first time, and in fine-grain detail, the works, ideals, tensions and shifts of the Anti-Slavery Society as the author rightly suggests, the first and longest standing civil society organisation . Enthusiastically recommended.' --Robbie Shilliam, Reader in International Relations, Queen Mary University of London; author of The Black Pacific: Anticolonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections
'Heartfield's important and meticulously-documented account shows clearly how the intertwining of ideals and interests in the original abolitionist movement produced the convergence of liberal anti-slavery and British imperialism in the following century.' --Nicholas Draper, University College London, author of Legacies of British Slave-ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain
From the Author
James Heartfield has written on native rights for the Journal of Pacific History, Arena, the Fiji Times, and elsewhere. His work has also appeared in the Times Educational Supplement, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Times. He is the author of The Aborigines Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1836-1909 (OUP, 2011).See all Product description
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Heartfield, whose previous works include ‘The Aborigines’ Protection Society’,’ The European Union and The End of Politics’ and ‘Unpatriotic History of the Second World War’ presents a detailed analysis of the history of the British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society, a hugely influential organisation. The book details how the Society rose to prominence and its ability to frame policy through its close ties with key political figures such as Gladstone. The organisation was led by men of wealth and prestige, such as Lord Brougham and Joseph Sturge, and played a key role providing background papers and even the map for the major international conference in 1888, where Africa was divided up into spheres of influence between the imperial powers. The book shows how for several decades, the Anti Slavery Society provided the British government with a remarkable degree of moral authority to challenge other imperial powers and intervene directly in the affairs of nation states. The chapters which explore European influence in Egypt, Sudan and Zanzibar (modern day Kenya and Tanzania) provide fascinating examples of direct military action against local leaders, who were often coerced into abolishing slavery as a way of consolidating power. Heartfield notes that ‘Anti Slavery rhetoric became an “integral part of the ideological package which justified the subjugation of colonial peoples” and whilst there were ‘many groups pushing towards Africa,...it was the Anti Slavery Society that drew them altogether, and gave them a singular mission that made sense of Britain’s role.’ (p229)
But before this, the key battle against slavery was fought out in the American Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy. Yet Heartfield notes that the official Anti Slavery Society was strangely ‘silent on the greatest struggle against slavery in a generation’ and in a fascinating passage, shows how this led to the establishment of the (more working class) Union Emancipation Society which was ‘a great success’ and ‘debated all over the North of England....350 meetings were organised by the Emancipation Society’ throughout the country composed of Chartists and ‘the black Americans J. Sella Martin, William Craft and William Andrew Jackson.’ (p161)
Heartfield carefully explains the role of the English cotton workers in their support of Lincoln and the Union, detailing the tremendous sacrifices they made in the face of the cotton embargo. He goes on to show that ‘confederate supporters had hoped that the working classes of Manchester would give them the leverage they needed to bring Palmerston into the war on their side. ...instead they stirred up a great mass of people against the war.’ (p163) and this groundswell of public opinion ‘prevented Palmerston from declaring war upon the United States, as he was on the point of doing, through the monster meeting in St James’ Hall.’ (p169)
The seemingly impossible position of some members of the Anti Slavery Society towards ending slavery in the South was well expressed by Charles Buxton MP, who argued that ‘I still, as much as ever, lament and disapprove of the conduct of the North in its endeavour to subjugate the South by the force of arms.’ (p166) This vacillation was clearly not lost on the new US president, who replied to a letter from the Society giving qualified support, via his minister Charles Francis Adams. They were told that Lincoln’s sentiments have ‘been so fully expressed in replies which have been made to the working men of Manchester, to the citizens of London .......and to the citizens of Bradford that...he prays that you will consider the spirit expressed in them as equally entertained in the present case’. Heartfield neatly summarises this by saying ‘The Anti-Slavery Society’s support was too late and too ‘lukewarm to be seen as anything more that an afterthought to the workers protests.’ (p167) and furthermore the Anti Slavery Society revelled ‘in the Godly punishment of civil war and the division of the country.’(p170)
The great strength of this book is its depth of coverage. The chapter which explores the abolition of slavery in the West Indies points out that ‘the planters were already in dire straits and greatly over mortgaged before they were bailed out by the British Government’s £20,000,000 compensation for the abolition.’ (p94). There are interesting sections on Cuba and Brazil as well as indentured labour and specifically the society’s attitude towards ’coolies’ (Chinese and Indian workers) where it is noted that ‘The Society made common cause with those in the colonies who found the immigrants’ presence distasteful or threatening, because it was hostile to the immigration system’ (p342), rather than mounting a principled defence of the right of immigrants to work and travel across the empire.
Heartfield concludes that ‘slavery has today largely been abolished. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society gave practical expression to that ideal.’ (p425) This excellent, well researched and thoroughly engaging book gives the reader sufficient material and enough examples to make up their own mind about the role of the British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society in achieving that ideal.