How did the abolition of slavery in Britain work?

For nearly 300 years Britain had been trading slaves. Yet, in 1807, the slave system was outlawed by British parliament. What caused this to change? And what impact did this have on British slave owners and the slaves that they owned?

You can download the worksheet here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

SUCCESS CRITERIA:
– I can describe the methods of the abolition movement and who ended slavery in Britain.
– I can explain why Britain’s abolition of slavery did not end slavery in the Americas.
– I can justify what could have been done to improve the 1807 Slave Trade Act.

KEY WORDS:
Abolition = When something is abolished, or brought to an end.
Compensation = When money is given to someone to pay for their loss of something.

DO NOW:
Think about our last lesson on the Haitian Revolution. Answer the following questions:
1) Why did the slaves fight against their French rulers in the late 18th century?
2) What did the Haitian Revolution achieve?

TASK ONE: Why was slavery abolished in Britain in 1807?

Read the information below about the abolition of slavery in Britain. Answer the following questions:
1) What was the purpose of the Abolition Committee?
2) What were the three reasons for MPs rejecting the abolition movement in the late 1700s?
3) Name three ways in which people in Britain put pressure on the government to end slavery.
4) Watch the video on the sugar boycott.
4a) Why did people refuse to buy sugar?
4b) Why were women in Britain so crucial for bringing slavery to an end?

Why did people speak out against slavery in Britain?

By the late 1700s, slavery had been a part of British society for almost 300 years. Yet, thanks to the period known as the Enlightenment, many philosophers and political thinkers began arguing that all men should enjoy equal rights. This was one of the main reasons why many people began speaking out against slavery.

In 1787, Granville Sharp set up the Abolition Committee for this very reason. The aim was to campaign against the slave trade and put pressure on the British government to end slavery. Although only made up of 12 men, the organisation became very successful in gaining large support across Britain.

The Abolition Committee logo. Notice the tagline, ‘Am I not a man and a brother’ below the enslaved man. The aim was to highlight the rights these people should have.

However, the abolition movement was rejected by many MPs in the British parliament. For a start, many MPs in parliament had links to the slave trade and it was making them very rich. They didn’t want to end a system that benefited them, and continued to work in their interest. In addition, many MPs were worried that abolishing slavery would ruin Britain’s economy, as it was reliant on cheap labour from the Americas to make the country rich. Lastly, they were worried about the reaction of slave owners in the Americas if they abolished slavery. It would take a lot of work to ensure slavery was abolished, therefore.

Yet the abolition movement was gaining momentum and put more and more pressure on the government to end slavery. Many women’s groups began campaigning against slavery, and became crucial in the fight. Medallions and broaches were also worn by people in the public to show that they were against slavery. In addition, hundreds of petitions, containing thousands of names, were signed and sent to the government to insist slavery was brought to an end. Many partook in a sugar boycott, meaning that they refused to buy sugar that was produced by slaves. Some abolitionist MPs, such as William Wilberforce, began important work in parliament to put pressure on the government to end slavery.

A video explaining the importance of the sugar boycott in Britain for bringing an end to slavery.

Eventually, MPs could not resist the outcry from the public any longer, and in 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed by MPs in Westminster. It was now illegal to buy and sell slaves, bringing an end to British sailors using the triangular trade route to make money.

TASK TWO: What were the limitations of the 1807 Slave Trade Act

Using the information in the box below, write a PEE paragraph to explain why the impact of the 1807 Slave Trade Act in Britain was limited. Use the following structure:

POINT: The 1807 Slave Trade Act was limited in ending slavery.
EVIDENCE: It improved things because… However it was limited because…
EXPLANATION: This shows that…

The positives of the 1807 Slave Trade Act:
– The law outlawed British people from enslaving others.
– The law outlawed slave owners from buying any more slaves for their plantations in the Americas.
– Britain’s Royal Navy now had a duty to patrol the Atlantic ocean and seize any British ships they found carrying slaves.

The limitations of the 1807 Slave Trade Act:
– Plantation owners in the Americas could still keep the slaves they already had – it didn’t set them free.
– Sugar, coffee and tobacco, therefore, were continued to be made by enslaved people in the Americas.
– British pirates continued to buy and trade slaves illegally. The British Royal Navy was very ineffective at catching these ships.

TASK THREE: How could the 1807 Slave Trade Act be improved?

Considering the answer you gave for question two, explain how the 1807 Slave Trade Act could be improved to make sure slavery was ended for good.

SENTENCE STARTER: The 1807 Slave Trade Act could be improved if…

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