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Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic

Derek R. Peterson

Publication Year: 2010

The abolition of the slave trade is normally understood to be the singular achievement of eighteenth-century British liberalism. Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic expands both the temporal and the geographic framework in which the history of abolitionism is conceived. Abolitionism was a theater in which a variety of actors—slaves, African rulers, Caribbean planters, working-class radicals, British evangelicals, African political entrepreneurs—played a part. The Atlantic was an echo chamber, in which abolitionist symbols, ideas, and evidence were generated from a variety of vantage points. These
essays highlight the range of political and moral projects in which the advocates of abolitionism were engaged, and in so doing it joins together geographies that are normally studied in isolation. Where empires are often understood to involve the government of one people over another, Abolitionism and Imperialism shows that British values were formed, debated, and remade in the space of empire. Africans were not simply objects of British liberals’ benevolence. They played an active role in shaping, and extending, the values that Britain now regards as part of its national character. This book is therefore a contribution to the larger scholarship about the nature of modern empires.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Series Editors’ Preface

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pp. vii-viii

The university of Cambridge is home to one of the world’s leading centers of African studies. It organizes conferences, runs a weekly seminar series, hosts a specialist library, and coordinates the work of the several dozen Cambridge lecturers whose research concerns Africa. with the generous support of the Leverhulme trust, the center has recently inaugurated the ...

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pp. ix-x

This book arises out of a series of lectures convened by the Centre of African Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2007. the series was occasioned by the bicentenary of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave trade, which was then being celebrated with much pomp and circumstance by Tony Blair’s Labour government. the lectures were meant to ...

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Introduction. Abolitionism and Political Thought in Britain and East Africa

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pp. 1-37

In 1931, Zakaliya Lugangwa and sixty-three compatriots wrote to the governor of the British protectorate of Uganda, the Anglican bishop, and the secretary of state for the colonies to complain about the government of Mubende district. Mubende, historically part of the Bunyoro state, had with the backing of British administrators been folded into the kingdom of ...

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One. African Political Ethics and the Slave Trade

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pp. 38-62

One of the great paradoxes of African history, indeed of world history, is the response of African leaders and decision makers to the slave trade. It does not take much work to demonstrate that the slave trade was very damaging to Africa from a demographic point of view, both on a continental scale and on a more limited local scale.1 yet it is also obvious that the slave ...

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Two. 1807 and All That: Why Britain Outlawed Her Slave Trade

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pp. 63-83

It would seem that many a patriotic lip was licked in anticipation of the bicentenary in march 2007 of the abolition of the slave trade, or, to be more precise, the bicentenary of the act that outlawed Britain’s central role in its Atlantic triangle. Appetites had been whetted by the two-hundredth anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar seventeen ...

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Three. Empire without America: British Plans for Africa in the Era of the American Revolution

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pp. 84-100

British enterprIse in Africa still fares poorly in the new scholarship on the expanding empire of the late eighteenth century. The spirit of integration that is meant to guide the new Atlantic history has yet to inspire sustained engagement with British ambitions and activities on the eastern side of the Atlantic. We have an increasing number of ...

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Four. Ending the Slave Trade: A Caribbean and Atlantic Context

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pp. 101-128

The abolition of the slave trade was an improbable event. Before the late eighteenth century some Europeans felt unease about the thought of shipping enslaved Africans, but most viewed the practice as morally indistinguishable from shipping any other commodity. In the 1783 trial concerning the Zong, a slave ship in which sailors threw overboard 133...

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Five. Emperors of the World: British Abolitionism and Imperialism

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pp. 129-149

In 1799, midway into the twenty-year debate on British slave trade abolition, the Earl of Westmoreland rose in the House of Lords to mock the Sierra Leone Company’s directors as quixotic visionaries, attempting to ban a vast international trade along a broad swath of the coast of Africa: “Can a miserable settlement on the coast of Africa alter the manners of ...

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Six. Abolition and Imperialism: International Law and the British Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade

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pp. 150-174

The Connection between abolition and imperialism has various aspects. Most obviously, the cause of abolition of the slave trade was subsequently co-opted in justification of the European partition of Africa, notably at the Congress of Brussels in 1890.1 At a more fundamental level, it can be argued that the abolitionist project was in an ...

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Seven. Racial Violence, Universal History, and Echoes of Abolition in Twentieth-Century Zanzibar

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pp. 175-206

The ideas and discourses of abolitionism continued to exert an impact on Africa long after the end of slavery. Their most obvious legacy lay in the colonial project that dominated the continent’s political life throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Colonial rulers imagined the suppression of slavery as but the first of a series of steps undertaken in the ...


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pp. 207-228


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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443057
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419021

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slave trade -- Great Britain -- Colonies -- America -- History.
  • Imperialism -- Social aspects -- Great Britain.
  • Slave trade -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Antislavery movements -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Slave trade -- Africa -- History.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- History.
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