PortCities London

London and the transatlantic slave trade

The abolition campaigns

Opposition to the trade

Anti-slavery half penny
View full size imageAnti-slavery half penny. © NMM
As the trade in enslaved people reached its peak in the 1780s, more and more people began to voice concerns about the moral implications of slavery and the brutality of the system. From the beginning, the inhuman trade had caused controversy.

Many religious groups, such as the Quakers, objected to it on principle. John Wesley, the leader of the increasingly popular Methodist movement, was against Britain’s involvement in the trade. 

In the last quarter of the 18th century, the trade faced organized opposition in the form of a highly vocal and very determined abolition campaign.

Clarkson and the abolition movement

Thomas Clarkson, 1760-1846
View full size image Thomas Clarkson. © NMM

London was the focus for the abolition campaign, being home both to Parliament and to the important financial institutions of the City. As early as 1776, the House of Commons debated a motion 'that the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men'. 

Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce were two of the most prominent abolitionists, playing a vital role in the ultimate success of the campaign.

Clarkson, a headmaster’s son from Wisbech, had intended to enter the Church. At the age of 24, however, he was converted to the abolitionist cause. Clarkson devoted the rest of his life to that cause.

Slave Emancipation Society medallion
View full size imageSlave Emancipation Society medallion. © NMM
In 1787, Clarkson took the lead in establishing the London-based Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The committee took as its emblem the Wedgwood plaque of a chained and kneeling African, bearing the motto 'Am I not a man and a brother?'

Clarkson was a tireless campaigner and lobbyist. He made an in-d