The Saints Go Marching: The 18th and 19th Century Movement to Abolish Slavery, with Its Many Christian Leaders, Has Much to Teach Us

By Palmberg, Elizabeth | Sojourners Magazine, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The Saints Go Marching: The 18th and 19th Century Movement to Abolish Slavery, with Its Many Christian Leaders, Has Much to Teach Us


Palmberg, Elizabeth, Sojourners Magazine


The 18th century may seem like ancient history. But today's antislavery activists can learn a lot from the campaigners who, within a few short years, created a mass movement in Britain that swayed first public opinion and finally Parliament to abolish the slave trade and later slavery itself within the British Empire.

They overcame many of the obstacles faced by activists in our world: lobbying by elites invested in the status quo, a legislature that delayed action in favor of "further study," and a reactionary wartime political climate, to name a few. And, as Adam Hochschild points out in his lively abolitionist history Bury the Chains, antislavery organizers pioneered many tactics used today: speaking tours, mass boycotts, local chapters of national groups, and voter guides, all to fight an unjust economic system with global reach.

Throughout the 1700s, many thinkers were against slavery--in theory. Plays and other forms of popular culture milked the plight of slaves for sentimental drama. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote a tract called "Thoughts on Slavery" in 1774 that proposed a boycott of slave-produced sugar and rum. Quakers went the furthest, banning slave owners from their denomination.

But a concerted, large-scale movement to end slavery seemed out of reach. Other than Wesley, many evangelicals, inside and outside the Church of England, spent the first four decades after the Great Awakening more interested in converting slaves than freeing them. John Newton, who penned the hymn "Amazing Grace," worked as a slave ship officer for six years after his conversion and did not publicly oppose the slave trade until he had been a minister for decades.

But by the mid-1780s, the time was ripe for change. Several court cases had raised public outrage about the slave trade. Former Caribbean resident James Ramsay's detailed eyewitness account of slavery became a bestseller in 1784. Three years later, a young man named Thomas Clarkson and others, many of them Quakers, began organizing a mass movement of antislavery societies all over Britain. The middle class, whose power and identity were on the increase, jumped in with both feet. In 1788, prominent author Hannah More published Slavery: A Poem, aimed at an upper-class audience. Wesley, whose audiences were largely working and middle class, preached against slavery in the slave-trading port of Bristol, producing a near-riot. In 1789, former slave Olaudah Equiano's autobiography became a bestseller, and William Wilberforce brought a bill to abolish the slave trade before Parliament.

The key to antislavery forces' successes was a broad coalition, energized by Quakers evangelical Christians but reaching across the political and social spectrum, including people of prophetic faith and shrewd politicians, progressives and conservatives, elites and outsiders.

THE SURPRISING THING was that people with such different outlooks could work together and even, often, be friends. The privileged Wilberforce, for example, was friends with Clarkson, who greeted the French Revolution with little-disguised rapture. Petitions to Parliament now suddenly drew from everyone in town, including signers barely educated enough to write.

One key factor was the conversion of several members of Britain's political and intellectual elite, most notably Wilberforce and More, to "vital religion"--an evangelical faith that saw religion not just as a nondescript commitment to morality, but rather as a passionate enthusiasm for Christ's atoning work. Previously, evangelicalism had been a working-class and middle-class phenomenon; many in the upper class regarded converts as declasse, puritanical whackos. The Church of England relegated most evangelical ministers to what were considered extremely marginal positions--for example, as chaplain to a charity hospital for people with venereal disease.

Wilberforce's life strikingly demonstrated--and transcended--the tensions between evangelicals and political elites of his day. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Saints Go Marching: The 18th and 19th Century Movement to Abolish Slavery, with Its Many Christian Leaders, Has Much to Teach Us
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.