Parliament and the British Slave Trade: Overview

Find out about Parliament's relationship with the transatlantic slave trade, and the public campaign that finally abolished it.

Trade routes and the slave trade

By the end of the 17th century Parliament had supervised the development of English colonial possessions in the Americas

Trading with Africa

Trading with Africa soon became hugely lucrative at the heart of which was the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans

Parliament and commerce

The growth in the importance of the sugar trade to England’s economy

Parliament regulates the Africa trade

As the trade with Africa grew it came under the gaze of Parliament

Leading members of London's black community

Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho were high profile figures in London’s Black community

Abolition: the argument

The mid-eighteenth century saw the start of legal battles against the slave trade culminating in a formal campaign for abolition

The abolitionists

William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and William Murray were key figures in the abolitionist movement. Thomas Clarkson was one of the 12 members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Petitioning Parliament

By 1788 Parliament had received a number of petitions in favour of abolition, whilst those supporting the trade submitted counter-petitions

The first parliamentary debates

In 1788 the Prime Minister commissioned a report on the slave trade and the debates that followed led to legislation limiting the numbers of enslaved Africans carried from Africa to the West Indies

Wilberforce makes the case

William Wilberforce became the parliamentary spokesman for the abolition campaign and managed to establish a select committee to consider anti-slave trade petitions

The evidence

First-hand evidence of the suffering of Africans on slave ships and the plantations helped expand the abolitionist cause

Drive for abolition slowed by external events

The impact of the French Revolution and slave uprisings halted the drive for abolition but Wilberforce kept the debate in the public eye

Parliament abolishes the slave trade

The Slave Trade Abolition Bill was given Royal Assent on the 25 March 1807

What happened next

Although the British ended their slave trade in 1807, slavery itself continued in the British colonies until full emancipation in 1833


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