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Drive for abolition slowed by external events

Despite the pressures for change which built up between 1788 and 1791 the abolitionist cause was not yet won.

Two events were responsible. The first was the French Revolution, which became ever more extreme. The second was the massive slave uprising in St. Domingue, a French colony in the West Indies, led by Toussaint-L'Ouverture.

A series of revolts began on the island shortly after news reached it of the start of the revolution in France in 1789. The British attempt to seize the colony proved a disaster, with the loss of more than 40,000 British lives.

All this served to halt the drive for abolition, which did not pick up momentum again until after the death of William Pitt in 1806, and the emergence of a more sympathetic government under Lord Grenville.

There had been a string of parliamentary regulations tightening the conduct of the slave trade, but the final abolition had to wait until 1807. Despite this, the 1790s saw repeated attempts by William Wilberforce to keep the issue in the public arena.


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