British Antislavery Influence, 1770-1865
Substantive correspondence between British and American antislavery advocates began in the 1770s prior to the Revolutionary War. Up until the 1820s, much of this correspondence took place between British and American Christian activists and addressed the issues of slavery and the slave trade. Following 1807, when both Great Britain and the United States enacted laws prohibiting their citizens from engaging in the international slave market, the slave trade persisted as an issue but became a less frequent topic of discussion. Prior to the 1820s, notable correspondents were Anthony Benezet, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay from the United States and Granville Sharp, Reverend John Wesley and William Wilberforce from Great Britain. From an institutional perspective, the Quaker-led Pennsylvania Abolition Society served as a major point of contact in the United States for British antislavery advocates. This website does not include much of this organization’s British correspondence because few of its manuscripts have been digitized.(1)
Beginning around 1800, another correspondence channel emerged between American advocates of black emigration to Africa and the founders of Great Britain’s Sierra Leone colony, a philanthropic effort intended to offer emancipated slaves a new life in Africa. The first American collaborator was Paul Cuffe, a black merchant who collaborated with British antislavery leaders like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson on a project that relocated a small number of American free blacks to Sierra Leone. Following Cuffe’s example, the American Colonization Society (ACS) formed in 1816 for the purpose of replicating Britain’s Sierra Leone project in Liberia. This organization grew rapidly and played a formative role in the American antislavery movement. From 1816 until the early 1830s, the ACS was an important point of contact for British and American antislavery advocates. The broad topic of black emigration projects during the antebellum period will be addressed separately in Module 2.
During the 1830s, the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) became the institutional center of Anglo-American antislavery collaboration. From its founding in 1833 until 1840, the AASS drew significant support from British antislavery leaders like George Thompson, Elizabeth Pease, Charles Stuart and James Cropper. This library includes examples of their correspondence with AASS leaders like William Lloyd Garrison, Robert Purvis, Sarah and Angelina Grimké (Weld) and Wendell Phillips. The British antislavery movement also influenced the development of two founding principles of the AASS: the United States should immediately commence the process of abolishing slavery(2) and the antislavery movement must actively oppose the ACS and the idea of black emigration. The latter will be discussed in Module 2. The former, often referred to as "immediate emancipation," borrowed heavily from American publications of two influential British pamphlets: Elizabeth Heyrick’s Immediate, not Gradual Emancipation, published in the United States in 1824, and Charles Stuart’s The West India Question, published in the United States in 1832 (these documents appear in the next section).(3)
The year 1840 was a pivotal moment in Anglo-American collaboration and for the American antislavery movement. First, it brought together a large contingent of American and British antislavery advocates in London at the first major international antislavery convention. Second, it marked an instance of schism in the AASS that precipitated a large exodus to the newly formed American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS). From this point forward, Anglo-American correspondence became more contentious as Britain’s preeminent abolitionist organization, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS), sided with the AFASS. Finally, beginning in 1840, collaboration between British antislavery advocates and black American abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, Charles Remond and James McCune Smith, increased substantially. Much of this collaboration occurred face-to-face as a growing number of black American abolitionists visited Great Britain for the purposes of lecturing and fundraising.
Note on Dates in Document Names: For all letters and other types of correspondence, unless otherwise noted, the indicated year is the year when the document was written.
British antislavery influence in the United States extended well beyond the American antislavery movement. Between 1770 and 1865, British antislavery advocates published several pamphlets in the United States that substantially influenced the American slavery debate. Included in this website are Reverend John Wesley's Thoughts upon Slavery (1774), Thomas Clarkson's An Essay on the Impolicy of the Slave Trade (1787), Benjamin Godwin’s Lectures on Slavery (1836), Harriet Martineau's Society in America (1837), Clarkson’s Letter to the Clergy of Various Denominations (1841) and Marshall Hall's The Two-Fold Slavery of the United States (1854), among others. This library also includes editorials and letters from British antislavery leaders that were published in American antislavery newspapers such as Freedom's Journal, The Liberator and Frederick Douglass' Paper. Though historians have often described the decades between 1800 and 1830 as a "low point in antislavery history,"(4) this website contains several documents from this era, including James Montgomery's The West Indies: A Poem, in Four Parts (1812), The Injurious Effects of Slave Labour (1824) and Reverend D. Wilson's Thoughts on British Colonial Slavery (1828).
To provide American counterpoints to these publications, the library includes published American reactions, where possible. For the earlier period, refer to contemporary American documents such as John Kenrick's Horrors of Slavery (1817), Robert Walsh’s Appeal from the Judgments of Great Britain (1819) and several included articles from the Niles' Weekly Register. For the latter period, see: Letters Against the Immediate Abolition of Slavery by T.R. Sullivan (1835), “Pro-Slavery Response to Harriet Martineau’s Society in America by Dr. Simms” (1837) and Governor Hammond’s Letters on Southern Slavery: Addressed to Thomas Clarkson (1845), among others.
Speeches and general petitions were two other media through which British antislavery influence flowed. This library contains speeches by two of the most well-known and broadly-traveled British lecturers: George Thompson and Charles Stuart. Though generally well-received by antislavery Americans, their speeches sometimes evoked violent resistance from local populations, as demonstrated by the “Mob Response to Charles Stuart's 1834 Speaking Tour,” “Letter to the Editor of the Boston Recorder Criticizing an Article on the Boston Mob that Tried to Attack George Thompson,” (1835) and "Negative Response to George Thompson's Speech at Faneuil Hall," (1851) among other documents. The website also contains general petitions and addresses sent to the American government and other public institutions. It includes two documents addressed to Presidents of the United States: "Expostulatory Letter to George Washington from Edward Rushton" (1797) and "Address to the President of the United States from the Committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society" (1841). The majority of the remaining documents are appeals from British religious leaders to their American counterparts encouraging them to adopt public antislavery stances. See, for instance: "Correspondence between British Baptists and American Baptists on the Subject of Slavery - 1833-1840” and An Address from the Undersigned Unitarian Ministers of Great Britain and Ireland, to their Ministerial Brethren of the Unitarian Churches of the United States of America (1843).(5)
Note on Dates in Document Names: For all publications, unless otherwise noted, the indicated year is the year of the first edition published in the United States. For speeches, petitions and all other documents, unless otherwise noted, the indicated year is the year when the document was written or when the associated event took place.
ANGLO-AMERICAN CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLABORATION, PRE-1800
ANGLO-AMERICAN CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLABORATION, 1800-1820
ANGLO-AMERICAN CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLABORATION PRIOR TO THE SCHISM IN THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY, 1821-1840
THE GENERAL ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION IN LONDON, 1840
INITIAL BRITISH REACTIONS TO THE SCHISM, 1840-1841
ANGLO-AMERICAN CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLABORATION, 1842-1865
BRITISH ANTISLAVERY PUBLICATIONS AND PETITIONS, PRE-1800
BRITISH ANTISLAVERY PUBLICATIONS AND PETITIONS, 1800-1830
BRITISH CRITICISMS OF SLAVERY, 1830-1865
Excerpt from Picture of Slavery in the United States of America by George Bourne (British Immigrant) – 1834 (revised version of his The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable published in the United States in 1816)
REACTION: Excerpt from American Morals and Manners by Unitarian minister Orville Dewey - 1844; defends America against antislavery criticisms like the 1843 address by British and Irish Unitarian ministers
REACTION: Protest against American Slavery, by one hundred and seventy-three Unitarian Ministers - 1845; an American publication inspired by the debate within the Unitarian church caused by the 1843 address from British and Irish Unitarian ministers
SPEECHES GIVEN BY BRITISH ANTISLAVERY ADVOCATES IN THE UNITED STATES, 1830-1865
REACTION: Letters Against the Immediate Abolition of Slavery Addressed to the Free Blacks of the Non-Slaveholding States by T.R. Sullivan – 1835; American response to George Thompson’s (British) promotion of immediate emancipation
General Promotion of Antislavery Sentiment by British, 1830-1865
1 See the following two books for descriptions of Quaker collaboration between 1770 and 1820 and for relevant primary sources: Thomas E. Drake, Quakers and Slavery in America (Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1965); Betty Fladeland, Men and Brothers: Anglo-American Antislavery Cooperation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972), chapters 1-5.
2 There are several books that explain the nuances of the doctrine of "immediate emancipation." An excellent example is: Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850. 1st Elephant paperback ed. Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1989.
3 Gilbert Hobbs Barnes and Dwight Lowell Dumond, eds., Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Grimké, 1822-1844 (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company,1934). v1, 74n; Dwight Lowell Dumond, Antislavery: the Crusade for Freedom in America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 138-40.
4 Fladeland, Men and Brothers; Anglo-American Antislavery Cooperation, 80.
5 The following three publications are useful references for understanding the religious dimension of Great Britain’s antislavery influence: Drake, Quakers and Slavery in America; John R. McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984); Douglas C. Stange, British Unitarians against American Slavery, 1833-65 (Rutherford [N.J.]: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984).