Posts Tagged ‘Edward Protheroe’

Abolition and Radical Politics in Bristol in the 1830 Election

March 5, 2021

A few days ago Bristol city council passed a motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake and seconded by Bristol’s deputy mayor and head of equalities, Asher Craig, for the payment of reparations for slavery. Despite the radical language used – Lake referred to people of African descent as ‘Afrikans’, claiming that this was an inclusive term and the original spelling of the word, which Europeans had changed – the motion was in many ways unremarkable. It called for funding to be directed to create sustainable Black communities and promote racial equality. These programmes were to be guided by the needs, views and historical perspectives of the Black communities themselves.

But this isn’t really very different from what Bristol, and most other cities with a Black or Asian population, are already doing. Since the riots of 1981/2 Bristol has been funding schemes to regenerate St. Paul’s and other deprived areas in Bristol’s inner city with a large Black population. And I got the impression that these schemes were tailored to meet the demands and requirements of the various Black organisations active in those areas.

The continuing debate over Bristol’s role in the slave trade prompted me to look for a pamphlet published decades ago by the Bristol branch of the Historical Association on Bristol and the abolitionist campaign, Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery: The Politics of Emancipation, by Peter Marshall. The pamphlet’s text has been put online by Bristol Record Society, and can be read at bha037.pdf (bristol.ac.uk). Reading it, what I found particularly interesting is the way the pro-Abolition Whig candidate, Edward Protheroe for the 1830 election linked the emancipation of slaves with policies that would defend the freedom and increase the prosperity of the city’s working people against the rich elite and the West Indian Merchants. An election placard, ‘Who Is The Man Of Your Choice? Protheroe!’, stated

‘Who is for a poor man having a cheap loaf? – Protheroe!

Who is for a poor man having a cheap and good pot of beer? – Protheroe!

Who is for reform in parliament?- Protheroe!

Who is for taking off sinecures, pensions,&c? – Protheroe!

Who votes against the lavish expenditure in building palaces, &c?- Protheroe!

Who is a friend to freedom?- Protheroe!

Who is opposed to this ‘man of the people’ and for what?

The West India Merchants, because Protheroe is a friend to all mankind, and freedom all over the world!!

Will you permit these West India Merchants to ENSLAVE YOU?

Will you let them dictate to you, who shall represent you, in defiance of your own wishes?

No! You are Freemen!

Teach them a lesson. Convince them that however they may rule with despotic sway in the West Indies-they shall not lord it over you! That you will not be their slaves, their vassals or their tools!! …’

There has always been a strong working class sympathy for anti-racism and Black improvement. In the 18th and 19th centuries slave proprietors lamented the fact that White working class Brits were not only in favour of the abolition of slavery, but actively assisted escaped slaves. This was particularly true in Scotland, where the miners were bondmen – slaves – themselves.

Recently the Labour left has stressed that its programmes to support and improve the conditions of Blacks and other ethnic minorities are also linked to their broader campaigns in support of the British working class. They state that the White working class were not involved in the enslavement of Blacks, and have suffered from the same system of class rule and capitalism that resulted in Black slavery and exploitation. Protheroe’s election placard shows how far back those sentiments went in Bristol, to the early 19th century at least.

And this class connection between the White working class and British BAME communities needs to be stressed and maintained, because the Tories are trying to exploit White working class resentment to push through their policies of impoverishment, exploitation and death. But Protheroe’s placard also shows how White working people’s solidarity can also be used to push for radical political change and anti-racism.