The case against Abolition

The campaign for an end to the slave trade, the Abolition campaign, was supported by many. However, there were also those who disagreed with the campaign, and supported the slave trade. The merchants, traders and plantation owners who had a direct interest in the trade began to work against the Abolition campaign. They argued that the slave trade was of vital importance to the trade and wealth of Britain. As with the Abolition campaign, local committees were set up to argue the case for the slave trade. Like the Abolitionists, anti-Abolition committees sent petitions to Parliament, gave evidence to the various Parliamentary committees that looked into the question of the slave trade, and wrote to the local newspapers. Pictured here is a leaflet from a meeting of the West-India [Caribbean] Planters and Merchants. The London merchants who called this meeting printed their arguments and circulated them in order to draw attention to the threat posed by the abolition of the slave trade.

Those who agreed with the slave trade (or the pro-slave traders), argued that the import of new slaves from Africa to the Caribbean was needed to maintain the colonies where sugar was produced. They thought that if the production of sugar in the Caribbean islands declined for lack of labour, the ‘Navigation, Manufactures, Trade and Revenue’ of Britain would suffer as a result. This was because so much of the country’s shipping and manufacturing industry was tied to the trade with the Caribbean colonies, such as the island of Jamaica.

The two sides of the campaign responded to one another’s arguments. Cartoons were published in newspapers for both sides. They showed either the terrible punishments given to slaves, or the supposed good life that slaves enjoyed. Supporters of the slave trade argued that Britain’s wealth rested on goods produced by slaves. They argued that jobs in Britain depended on slavery in the Caribbean and America, and that if Britain did not trade in slaves, European competitors would and gain an advantage over Britain.