Women Writers and Abolition
Source TitleThe History of British Women's Writing, 1750-1830, Volume Five
University of Melbourne Author/sColeman, Deirdre
AffiliationCulture and Communication
CitationsColeman, D. (2010). Women Writers and Abolition. Labbe, JM (Ed.). The History of British Women's Writing, 1750-1830, Volume Five, The History of British Women's Writing, 1750-1830, Volume Five, (1), 5, pp.172-193. Palgrave Macmillan.
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The years 1787–88 mark the high tide of popular abolitionism. What had begun as a small-scale protest, with Quakers submitting their first public petition to Parliament in 1783, was soon to culminate in a sudden and widespread outburst of humanitarian revulsion against the ‘abominable’ and ‘indefensible’ trade. There have been many attempts to explain the speed and breadth of the national mobilization against the slave trade. In a recent contribution Seymour Drescher dismisses arguments that attribute the new popularity to ‘chastened anxiety or national humiliation’ at the loss of the North American colonies. Nor does Drescher see abolitionism’s coming of age as a response to heightened internal class conflict, or to an economic decline in the value of the British slave trade. Without offering much explanation himself, apart from the great expansion of print media in this period, what Drescher does note is that popular abolitionism emerged at one of the most shining moments in British history, when the nation revelled in its ‘prosperity, security and power’.1 This means that, while abolitionists might express strong sentiments of outrage, the underlying premise of their protest involved a degree of complacency. As Drescher puts it, ‘how could the world’s most secure, free, religious, just, prosperous and moral nation allow itself to remain the premier perpetrator of the world’s most deadly, brutal, unjust and immoral offences to humanity? How could its people, once fully informed of its inhumanity, hope to continue to be blessed with peace, prosperity and power?
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