Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868)
Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845)
Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846)
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (?)
Serjeant William Davy (?), Counsel for James Somerset
John Dunning, 1st Baron Ashburton (1731-1783), Counsel for Thomas Lewis
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797)
Alexander Falconbridge (?)
Serjeant John Glynn (?), Counsel for James Somerset
William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1759-1834)
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764Â?1845)
Francis Hargrave (c.1741-1821), Counsel for James Somerset
Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831)
Anne Knight (1786-1862)
Thomas Lewis (?)
Mary Lloyd (1795-1865)
Sir James Mansfield (1733-1821), Counsel for James Somerset
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793)
John Newton (1725-1807)
Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803)
Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838)
Elizabeth Pease (1807-1897)
Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850)
James Phillips (?)
James Ramsay (1733-1789)
Granville Sharp (1735-1813)
William Sharp (1729-1810)
James Somerset (?)
Jonathan Strong (c.1745-1770)
Sophia Sturge (?)
Lucy Townsend (?)
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)
William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
Benefactors for James Somerset (Elizabeth Cade, John Marlow, Thomas Walkin)
Christian Missions in the Caribbean Colonies of England/Great Britain, Hanoverian Era
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) of England/Great Britain, Hanoverian Era
Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Aside from his duties as physician to George III, William Sharp operated a London clinic that served the poor. One morning in 1765 as his brother Granville was visiting, a man named Jonathan Strong came to his doorstep. He had received life-threatening injuries from a pistol-whipping at the hands of his now-former master, an attorney named David Lisle. Lisle had dismissed the slave after the beating, finding him no longer useful. The Sharps got Strong to St. Bart's Hospital for treatment, and after his recovery Granville got him a job as an errand-boy for an apothecary.
Lisle spotted Strong on the street one day, and decided to reclaim and subsequently sell his property. Jamaican planter James Kerr agreed to purchase Strong for £30. Two men were hired to kidnap Strong and place him in a sheriff's prison, where he would sit until Kerr was ready to depart for Jamaica with his new purchase in tow. Strong managed to send word to the Sharps. Granville successfully appealed for Strong's release, convincing the Lord Mayor of London that Strong had been imprisoned without having committed a crime. For his troubles, Granville earned an invitation to a duel by Lisle, which he refused, and an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Kerr. Strong died in 1770 from complications due to his injuries, at the age of 25.
On July 2 that year, two watermen kidnapped Thomas Lewis in Chelsea and placed him on board the Captain Seward, at the orders of its captain Robert Stapylton. Servants of Sarah Banks, mother of biologist Sir Joseph Banks, witnessed this and informed her. Mrs. Banks promptly informed Granville, who appealed for a writ of habeas corpus and managed to have it delivered to the ship while it was at sea. Granville filed criminal assault charges against Stapylton and his hirelings.
Lewis v. Stapylton was tried the following year. Presiding over the case was William Murray, then Baron Mansfield. (He was elevated to Earl in 1776.) Lord Mansfield pioneered British mercantile law, and gained notoriety as the judge who convicted John Wilkes of the capital crimes of obscene and seditious libel against the Crown; the sentence was later rescinded upon appeal.
Granville hired John Dunning to prosecute the case. (The British court system of that day allowed for criminal trials conducted by private parties, in a fashion similar to civil trials of today.) Since his youth, Lewis had stayed - voluntarily - on several ships, eventually coming to one captained by a Robert Smith and then to Stapylton's. Shortly after that Stapylton was accosted by a Spanish privateer, and Lewis was taken aboard. He was eventually left in Havana. There and in several other locales Lewis had worked for wages. Stapylton had kidnapped Lewis once before in Pensacola; Dunning maintained that this was illegal.
Granville and Dunning had hoped that the case would lead to a ruling on the legality of slavery, as well as conviction of the defendants. But Lord Mansfield would limit the case to the criminal charges alone. The verdict depending on Stapylton's claim to property, which to Mansfield rested on written proof that Smith sold Lewis to Stapylton. (If Lewis were property, an existing competing claim by the Spanish captain would complicate the case.) The jury ruled that Lewis was not property, and the defendants were therefore guilty.
In 1771, Boston customs official Charles Steuart made a business trip to England and brought with him his slave James Somerset. The latter escaped in October, and was recaptured in November and imprisoned on Captain John Knowles' Jamaica-bound ship. Three Londoners otherwise forgotten to history - Elizabeth Cade, John Marlow, and Thomas Walkin - requested a writ of habeas corpus that was drafted by an unknown author and signed by Lord Mansfield. It was delivered to Knowles, demanding that Somerset be present in court during an inquiry into the legality of his seizure and imprisonment. Serjeant William Davy (note: "serjeant" is a peerage, not a military rank), working on behalf of Somerset's benefactors, requested that the full hearing be postponed until 1772 to allow proper time for case preparation.
Approached by Somerset on January 13, Granville assembled a five-man legal team: Serjeants Davy and John Glynn, and barristers J. Alleyne, Francis Hargrave, and James Mansfield (not yet knighted). Steuart called upon two of England's most renowned attorneys to join his legal team - one of whom had once worked for the other side.
John Dunning plays a unique role in this tale: his work on the earlier case sabotaged this one. He would not address the issue of slavery itself. Steven M. Wise quotes the attorney in Though The Heavens May Fall: "For myself, I would not be understood to intimate a wish in favor of slavery, by any means; nor on the other side to be supposed the maintainer of an opinion contrary to my own judgment. I am bound by duty to maintain those arguments which are most useful to Captain Knowles, as far as is consistent with truth..." Wise proceeds to explain the significance of this (emphasis added):
"An albatross hung around the neck of John Dunning as a result of his fiery summation in Stapylton's case. Thomas Lewis could not be Stapylton's property, he had thundered just the year before, in the same place and to the same man:"[N]o such property can exist...in any place and in any court in this kingdom...our laws admit of no such property!"
(As we shall see, the subtitle of Wise's book - The Landmark Trial That Led To The End Of Human Slavery - exaggerates the impact of the Somerset decision. It also fails to add an important qualifying phrase: in Britain. Slavery still thrives in certain parts of the world, with or without the blessings of the state.)
Dunning could not get away with contradicting his oratory from the prior case, and therefore could not directly counter the plaintiffs' arguments against the legitimacy of slavery. He and James Wallace cited supposed threats to commerce and social order posed by a mass emancipation of slaves. Dunning also attempted to draw a parallel between slavery and other forms of servanthood, such as (quoting Wise), "the relationship Dunning had with his footman, or that of a master and his apprentice, or as a soldier who had enlisted in the army whom Parliament was requiring to continue serving in a public emergency even after his enlistment is up."
The Mansfield Judgment was misinterpreted as outlawing of slavery, by manycontemporariess and even by some modern historians. Writing for the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Carl Watner explains the ruling:
"Technically considered, the judgment settled only two narrow points of English law. A master could not seize his slave and remove him from the country against his will. And a slave could secure a writ of habeas corpus to prevent that removal. Regardless of the claims of historians, the case did not legally declare slaves free when they landed in England, nor did it abolish slavery there. Even after the decision, blacks were still hunted and kidnapped in the streets of English cities. What Mansfield declared was that there was no positive law enforcing slavery in England and that when the actions of slave masters were contrary to the Habeas Corpus Act, the slaves might rely on the Act itself for legal relief."
In a letter to Philadelphia abolitionist Anthony Benezet, Benjamin Franklin commented on the public reaction to the Mansfield Judgment, noting the "Hypocrisy of this Country which encourages such a detestable Commerce by Laws, for promoting the Guinea [slave] Trade, while it piqu'd [praised] itself on its Virtue Love of Liberty, and the Equity of its Courts in setting free a single Negro."
(Note: "abolition" in Britain referred specifically to the slave trade; in America it referred to both the slave trade and slavery itself.)
These cases had minimal impact from a legal standpoint. Their chief legacy is that they served as building blocks for the incipient abolitionist movement.
An incident involving the slave ship Zong marked a critical turning point. On November 29, 1781, Captain Luke Collingwood ordered that all 133 of the sickest slaves be thrown overboard to alleviate overcrowding and malnutrition. (One managed to climb back aboard.) The ship's owner, James Gregson, filed aninsurancee claim against the murdered slaves. The initial claim was approved, but the insurers appealed.
This came to the attention of Olaudah Equiano (aka Gustavus Vasa - a former master named him after a famed Swedish monarch). He was enslaved at a young age, and eventually purchased his freedom, and worked many years as a a mariner during slavery and many of his years of freedom. Equiano contacted (who else?) Granville, who set forth to inject himself into the appeal being brought before (who else?) Lord Mansfield. The appeal was heard in 1783. Mansfield ruled that throwing the slaves overboard was unnecessary, thus rejecting the insurance claim - but he refused to charge Collingwood with murder.
Perhaps Mansfield did more for the cause against slavery with this ruling than with the previous one. Somerset was (to the public) a happy ending. The Zong mass-murder was an atrocity that could happen again - and the high death rate due to cramped, unsanitary conditions was business as usual. (Sixty slaves and five sailors had already died of illness before Collingwood's fatal order.) Granville's pen and the sermons of a few clergymen would ensure that this story would not fade away.
In 1785, a divinity student named Thomas Clarkson won Cambridge University's prestigious award for Latin essays, with An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African. It was published the following year. Clarkson immediately jumped in the abolition movement. He began researching the conditions of the slave trade, interviewing sailors and especially doctors who had worked the Middle Passage, the leg of the slave trade from Africa to the Americas.
Two of Clarkson's associates brought expert knowledge on slave conditions. Physician Alexander Falconbridge kept meticulous notes during his voyages on slave ships. In 1788 published An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa. Anglican minister James Ramsay saw life on the Caribbean plantations; in 1784 he wrote Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies.
Two books written by former slaves won much acclaim. In 1787, an African in London named Quobna Ottobah Cugoano wrote Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Commerce of the Human Species. The book went through several printings and was translated in French. It devotes only six pages to actual recollections of his days of slavery, stressing mostly his philosophical musings over both slavery and colonialism (avoiding mention of the newly-emancipated American colonies). Equiano made a fortune off his 1789 autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African. He tells great detail of his life during and after slavery.
On May 22, 1787, twelve men met at James Phillips' bookstore and printing shop at 2 George Yard and formed the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson were among them. Nine, including Phillips, were Quakers - then the prominent antislavery voices on both sidesofo the Atlantic. This was the first of the formal antislavery organizations in England. It coordinated efforts to gather evidence of slave trade conditions (Clarkson's pet project) and to educate the community.
Two of its greatest assets werepictoriall in nature. Josiah Wedgwood, the famed producer of china and other fine pottery, produced for the Society a medallion featuring a cameo of an kneeling and chained African slave and the inscription, "Am I not a man and a brother?" - two images of this precursor to the modern campaign button can be found here. Clarkson acquired from Plymouth abolitionists a diagram of the slave ship Brookes (see image here), its stowage decks loaded with 482 slaves. (The Brookes had carried between 609 and 740 on occasions, according to Hochschild.)
Clarkson put other visual aids to work. In his travels he collected goods produced by the slave trade. He alsoacquiredd various implements used to torture and otherwise control slaves, including chains, shackles, thumbscrews, and the speculum oris, a device used to force-feed slaves who refused to eat.
The antislavery sentiment was spreading across England with help outside the Society. Periodicals and pamphlets addressed the issue. (Granville himself was quite the prolific pamphleteer.) One tract, Thoughts of the African Slave Trade, was authored by John Newton, a slave ship captain who had abandoned his profession for the clergy years ago, and now was preachingfieryy sermons for the antislavery cause. He is known best for writing the hymn "Amazing Grace."
The abolitionists found a supporter in the House of Commons: William Wilberforce, and MP from Hull. He made is first speech on the subject May 12, 1789. The first legislative proposals were debated in Parliament in 1793, but that effort collapsed in the wake ofCaribbeann slave revolts and war with France. Wilberforce would submit several antislavery bills, but even those that could get past the House of Commons were stopped dead by the House of Lords.
In 1805, another abolitionist MP came up with an ingenious plan. James Stephen, once a government official from St. Kitts and now an MP, had witnessed plantation slavery up close, and was an expert on maritime trade. His 1805 book War in Disguise, or, the Fraud of Neutral Flags chronicled the role of neutral vessels in transatlantic trade. He proposed a Foreign Slave Trade Act that would ban British vessels from trade with France. Little known to the public was that many neutral (American) ships were actually British owned - the act would effectively slash two-thirds of British slave trade. The bill drove a wedge between planters, who have a huge interest in depriving France of trade, and slave ship owners who own some of those "neutral" ships.
The protectionist argument against abolition - that it would enrich the French slave trade and its Caribbean possessions - was gone with the wind as France lost its greatest jewel in the Caribbean. A free black named Toussaint L'Ouverture led the Western hemisphere's first successful slave revolt in St. Dominigue (now Haiti), and thwarted Spanish and British attempts to take the former colony. Britain established diplomatic relations with the new nation. With a smaller French presence in the Caribbean and a sugar-rich trade partner, Britain could eliminate its entire slave trade without stoking the fortunes of France. The Foreign Slave Trade Act could expand to include domestic slave trade as well.
(Haitian independence also laid the foundation for the Louisiana Purchase, cementing Toussaint's place among those individuals in history who had the greatest impact on geopolitics.)
The antiabolitionists gained two opportunities in one man: Lord Grenville, an ardent abolitionist. The new Prime Minister wielded his office to good effect, and as a member of the House of Lords he had considerable pull with that body that had stood in the way of abolitionist bills in years past. On March 25, the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was signed into law.
But slavery itself remained intact. The veteran abolitionists sought a gradual emancipation, as reflected in the original name of the Anti-Slavery Society, formed in 1823: the London Society for Mitigating and Gradually Abolishing the System of Slavery. Wilberforce and Clarkson were among its members, as were two MPs, Thomas Fowell Buxton and Henry Brougham. Another founding member was Zachary Macaulay, a one-time plantation manager and former governor of Sierra Leone who would found and edit the Anti-Slavery Reporter in 1825.
Women's anti-slavery groups were forming at that time, its driving force including Anne Knight, Mary Lloyd, Elizabeth Pease, Lucy Townsend, Sophia Sturge, and Elizabeth Heyrick. The women by and large were not gradualists, as reflected in Heyrick's 1824 book Immediate, not Gradual Abolition. The gradualist language was dropped from the name of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1830.
Missionaries in the Caribbean were a sore spot for the planters. Not necessarily starting out as anti-slavery crusaders, the former sent word back home about the horrid living conditions of the plantations, and among the slaves they spread a message of human equality. The slaves would hear of abolitionist efforts in Britain, and occasionally would misinterpret some bit of news as promise ofimmanentt emancipation. (And, to the dismay of the House of Hanover, some believed that the name of the king was Wilberforce.) At times the impatient slaves would instigate revolts. Missionaries were sometimes scapegoated for the rebellions; in the wake of one uprising in Montego Bay, Jamaica, several were imprisoned and about 20 churches torched. This provoked outrage on the other side of the Atlantic.
At this time Britain was already in turmoil over another issue: electoral reform. The current system established vast overrepresentation for certain portions of Britain, favoring the Tories. The new Prime Minister, Whig statesman Earl Grey, sought unsuccessfully to reform Parliament in 1831. Rioting broke out in several cities, most notably in Bristol. He and Henry Brougham petitioned William IV in May of 1832 to create a number of Whig peerages to enable reform; the king refused.
Grey dissolved the government, and William enlisted the current Tory leader and previous Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, to build a new government. But the man who defeated Napoleon met his own Waterloo. The key to the collapse of his efforts was Sir Robert Peel, who refused to add his weight to the new cabinet. Peel had strongly opposed reform in the past, but he feared that a government opposed to the vast majority of England would provoke civil war. William put Grey back in charge and agreed to the new peerages. The Reform Act passed the House of Lords June 7, 1832.
Elections catapulted the Whigs into control of Parliament, and the anti-slavery forces were ready to submit a bill to end British slavery once and for all. Buxton played a key role in the House of Commmons, and Brougham led the effort in the House of Lords. The ailing Wilberforce sat on the sidelines, having retired from politics in 1825. He died on July 29. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed August 28, 1933.
Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal
beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests. The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists
to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to
pursue common peaceable interests. Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of
violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade,
coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs
and to pursue undesired interests. Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society,
with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of
tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of
grievances against the crimes of the State. -- A Statement of Individual Rights, finalized version July 9, 2003