Posts Tagged ‘jamaica’

Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics

April 5, 2017

by Richard Seymour (London: Verso 2016).

I bought this last Friday, as I wanted something that would help me refute the continuing lies about the Labour leader: that he is a Trotskyite, his supporters have infiltrated the party, and that he is too left-wing to lead the Labour party to victory in 2020. The book does indeed provide plenty of information to refute these accusations, though I’m not convinced of its over all thesis. The book’s blurb states that Corbyn’s election as leader is just the latest phase in the party’s degeneration. Flicking through the book, it appears that his main point is that the Labour party has never really been a Socialist party, and that apart from the great victories of Clement Atlee’s administration, it’s record has been largely one of failure as it compromised its radical programme and adopted conventional, right-wing policies once in office. At one point Seymour describes the idea of Labour as a Socialist party as a ‘myth’.

I was taught by historians, who did believe, as Seymour does, that the British Labour party was influenced far more by 19th century Nonconformist Liberalism than by continental Socialism. And certainly when Labour took power in the 1930s, it did disappoint many of its voters by following the-then economic orthodoxy. There is a difference between Labourism and Socialism. However, the party included amongst its constituent groups both trade unions and Socialists, and stated so. However, I haven’t read the sections of the book where Seymour lays out the arguments for his view that the Labour party is degenerating – along with, he says, western democracy. But he does have some very interesting things to say about Corbyn’s supposedly ‘Trotskyite’ views, and the whole nonsense about Far Left infiltration of the party.

Corbyn’s parents were middle class radicals, who met when they were campaigning for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Growing up in rural Shropshire, he worked on farms. He was radicalised while working as a volunteer for Voluntary Service Overseas in Jamaica, where he became aware and appalled by ‘imperialist attitudes, social division, and economic exploitation.’ He was a trade union organisers for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, and then the National Union of Public Employees. He’s teetotal, and did not take part in the ‘hedonistic pleasures of the counterculture’. He is a member of the Bennite wing of the Labour party, the Socialist Campaign Group, which Seymour states has consistently opposed the government regardless of whichever party is in office.

His former partner Jane Chapman states that he is ‘very principled, very honest … a genuinely nice guy.’ Since 1983 he has been the MP for Islington North. Seymour notes that even his most ‘sceptical’ biographer, the Torygraph’s Rosa Prince, acknowledges that he ‘is known as a “good constituency MP”‘. He takes great pains to help his constituents, and is ‘universally considered to do an exemplary job’.

Apart from being anti-austerity, he has also actively campaigned against attempts to limit immigration, and rejects the New Labour tactic of trying to take on board some of UKIP’s militant nationalism. His first move as the new Labour leader was to attend a pro-refugee rally in London.

His other policies are left-wing, but not extreme Left by a very long way. Seymour writes

The agenda on which Corbyn was elected is not, however, the stuff of which revolutions are made. he has pledged to end austerity, and in its stead implement a People’s Quantitative Easing programme, with money invested in infrastructural development, job-creation and high-technology industries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won office on an agenda like this. Even the OECD is anti-austerity these days. He promises to address the housing crisis through extensive home-building, to fully nationalise the railways, and to bring all academies back under local democratic control. These objectives are to be funded, not so much by squeezing the rich like a sponge to water the gardens of the poor, as by closing tax loopholes, stimulating growth, and spending less on controversial programmes like Trident.

This is in most ways a classic social-democratic remedy, which could easily have come with some Wilsonian vocables about ‘the white heat of technological revolution’. The problem for the establishment is not necessarily Corbyn’s agenda. It may be too radical for today’s Labour party, today’s media and today’s parliamentary spectrum, but business could live with it, and the consensus would shift if Corbyn gained popular support. (pp. 8-9)

So where did this bilge that he was a Trot come from? Some of it came from the fact that his rallies were partly organised an attended by ‘accredited helpers’, people who were not Labour members, but who gave their time and effort alongside those who were. The only evidence that there was a ‘far left plot’ was the call by a tiny Marxist grouplet, the Communist Party of Great Britain. This has only 24 members, at the most, and whose weekly news-sheet is regarded as the Heat magazine of the Far Left. (P. 30).

So where do the new members comes? Many of them are simply Labour members, who drifted away or became inactive thanks to the managerial, autocratic attitude of the New Labour leadership. They were tired of being ignored, and regarded only as useful for leafletting and so on. And what really annoyed many grassroots members was the scripts the leadership insisted that canvassers should follow when talking to people on doorsteps. A significant number are also young people, who have joined the Labour party because for the first in a very long time there is actually a leader, who means what he says and talks straight in language ordinary people can understand, rather than the waffle and management-speak that constitutes the rhetoric of his right-wing opponents.

Much of the hostility against him in the press and the New Labour coterie comes from his support from two of the largest trade unions, Unite and Unison, which has had the Sunday Times and other rags screaming hysterically about the threat of renewed union militancy.

But what really terrifies the Right – including the Blairites – and the media-industrial complex, is his style of campaigning. Blair and the other parties adopted a style of government based on industrial management, using focus groups, and with news and the party’s statements all carefully marketised and timed according to the news cycles. Corbyn doesn’t do this. He actually turns up at rallies and events up and down the country, and speaks to the people. Corbyn himself said that he went to 100 meetings during his leadership campaign, and by the end of that year would have gone to 400-500. (P. 7). Seymour states that on one Saturday in August, Corbyn spoke to 1,800 people in Manchester, 1,000 people in Derby, 1,700 in Sheffield’s Crucible and a further 800 outside. By the end of the month 13,000 people had signed to volunteer for his campaign. 100,000 people signed up as registered supporters, and 183,658 as active members of the Labour party.

Like his American counterpart, Bernie Sanders, Corbyn is also massively popular on social media. Marsha-Jane Thompson states that within four weeks of setting up his Facebook page, they went to 2.5 million people. The page reached 11 million people every day. As a result of this, when they announced a meeting in Colchester on Facebook, all the thousand tickets were gone within 45 minutes. Seymour also notes the deference given to the traditional media has broken. over half of Corbyn’s supporters received most their information about his leadership campaign from social media. And the attacks on him in the mainstream press and news have compounded a sense among his supporters that not only is Corbyn genuine, but the traditional media is untrustworthy. (p.23).

This is important. It isn’t just that Corbyn and his supporters represent a challenge to the neoliberal consensus that private industry is automatically good, and those on welfare have to be ground into the dirt, starved and humiliated in order to please bilious Thatcherites and their vile rags like the Scum, Mail, Express, Torygraph and Times. It’s because he’s actually going back to doing the traditional hard work of political oratory and speaking to crowds. Not just relying on his spin doctors to produce nicely crafted, bland statements which the party masses are expected to follow uncritically.

And the newspapers, TV and radio companies don’t like him, because his success challenges their status as the approved architects of consensus politics. When 57 per cent of his supporters get their information about him from social media, it means that the grip of the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and Murdoch to tell people what to believe, what to think and what counts as real news is loosening drastically. And if no one takes them seriously, then their ability to act as the spokesman for business and politics is severely damaged, as is the ability of the commercial companies to take money from advertising. What company is going to want to spend money on ads following ITV and Channel 4 news, if nobody’s watching. And the businesses spending so much on advertising to take over the functions of the welfare state, like private hospitals and health insurance, are going to demand lower rates for their custom if fewer people are watching them and the mood is turning away from the Thatcherite and Blairite programme of NHS privatisation.

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Blum’s List of Country In Which US Has Interfered with their Elections

February 18, 2017

A few days ago I posted up a list of the nations in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower where the US had interfered in its politics to block the election of a left-wing or liberal candidate, have them overthrown, or colluding and gave material assistance to a Fascist dictator and their death squads. As well as outright invasions, such as that of Grenada and Panama under Reagan and Bush in the 1980s, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under George Dubya.

Blum also has a list of countries, where the US has interfered with their domestic politics to pervert their elections. These include

The Philippines 1950s

Setting up by the CIA of a front organisation, the National Movement for Free Elections to promote its favoured politicians and policies, giving finance and other assistance to those candidates, disinformation, and drugging and plotting to assassinate their opponents.

Italy 1948-1970s

Long-running campaigns against the Communist party and to assist the conservative Christian Democrats.

Lebanon 1950s

CIA funding of President Camille Chamoun and other pro-American politicians; sabotaging of campaigns of politicos sceptical of American interference in their country.

Indonesia 1955

CIA donated a million dollars to Centrist Coalition to attack the electoral chances of President Sukarno and the Communist party.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64

Campaign to oust prime minister Cheddi Jagan, using general strikes, terrorism, disinformation and legal challenges by Britain.

Japan 1958-1970s

CIA funding of conservative Liberal Democratic Party against the Japanese Socialist Party, allowing the Liberal Democrats to stay in power continuously for 38 years.

Nepal 1959

CIA operation to help B.P. Koirala’s Nepali Congress Party to win the country’s first ever election.

Laos 1960

CIA arranged for massive fraudulent voting to ensure electoral victor of local dictator Phoumi Nosavan.

Brazil 1962

CIA and Agency for International Development funded politicos opposed to President Joao Goulart, as well as other dirty tricks against various other candidates.

Dominican Republic 1962

US ambassador John Bartlow Martin instructs the heads of the two major parties before general election that the loser would call on his supporters to support the winner, and that the winner would offer seats to the loser’s party. Also worked with the government to deport 125 people, including supporters of previous dictator Trujillo and Cuba.

Guatemala 1963

Overthrow of General Miguel Ydigoras, as they feared he was about to step down and call a general election, which would be won by previous reforming president and opponent of American foreign policy, Juan Jose Arevalo.

Bolivia 1966

Funding by CIA and Gulf Oil of campaign of president Rene Barrientos. The CIA also funded other rightwing parties.

Chile 1964-70

Interference in the 1964 and 1970s elections to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, democratic Marxist, to the presidency.

Portugal 1974-5

CIA funded moderates, including Mario Soares and the Socialist Party, and persuaded the other democratic socialist parties of Europe to fund them in order to block radical programme of generals, who had overthrown Fascist dictator Salazar.

Australia 1974-5

CIA funding of opposition parties and use of legal methods to arrange overthrow of prime minister Gough Whitlam because he opposed Vietnam War.

Jamaica 1976

Long CIA campaign, including economic destabilisation, industrial unrest, supplying armaments to his opponent and attempted assassination to prevent re-election of Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Panama 1984, 1989

CIA-funded campaigns first of all to support Noriega, and then against him in 1989, when the CIA also used secret radio and TV broadcasts.

Nicaragua 1984, 1990

1984: Attempt to discredit the Sandinista government by CIA. The opposition coalition was persuaded not to take part in the elections. Other opposition parties also encouraged to drop out; attempts to split Sandinistas once in power.

1990: Funding and partial organisation of opposition coalition, UNO, and its constituent groups by National Endowment for Democracy to prevent election of Sandinistas under Daniel Ortega; Nicaraguans also made aware that US intended to continue proxy war waged by Contras if they elected him.

Haiti 1987-88

CIA supported for selected candidates after end of Duvalier dictatorship. Country’s main trade union leader claimed US aid organisations were smearing left-wing candidates as Communists and trying to persuade rural people not to vote for them.

Bulgaria 1990-1, Albania 1991-2

Interference in both countries election to prevent re-election of Communists.

Russia 1996

Extensive backing and support to Yeltsin to defeat Communists.

Mongolia 1996

National Endowment for Democracy funded and helped form the opposition National Democratic Union, and drafted its platform, a Contract with the Mongolian Voter, based Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The goal here was to accelerate the regime’s privatisation programme and create government favourable to the establishment of American corporations and intelligence agencies in the country.

Bosnia 1998

US turns country into ‘American protectorate’ by appointing Carlos Westendorp as high representative in 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Before 1998 elections Westendorp removed 14 Bosnian Croatian candidates, claiming reporting by Croatian television biased. After election removes president of Bosnia Serb republic on grounds that he was causing instability.

In 2001 and 2005 high representative also removed one of the three joint presidents of the country. In 2005 high representative Paddy Ashdown, who sacked Dragan Covic.

Nicaragua 2001

US smears against Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, accused of human rights violations and terrorism. US ambassador openly campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolanos. US also pressurised Conservative party to withdraw from the elections so as not to split right-wing vote. There were also adds in the papers signed by Jeb Bush, claiming that Dubya supported Bolanos. Bolanos himself also stated that the Americans had told him that if Ortega won, they would cease all aid to the country.

Bolivia 2002

Extensive campaign against socialist candidate Evo Morales because he was against neoliberalism and big business, as well as the attempts to eradicate the coca plant, the source of cocaine.

US ambassador smeared him with accusations of connections to drug cartels and terrorism. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere also said America could cut off aid if Morales elected. Meetings between US ambassador and officials and leading figures in rival parties to support Morales’ rival, Sanchez de Lozada.

Slovakia 2002

Warnings by US ambassador to the country and the US ambassador to NATO that if they elected Vladimir Meciar, former president running on anti-globalisation campaign, this would damage chances of their country entering EU and NATO. Also interference by National Endowment for Democracy against Meciar.

El Salvador 2004

Campaigning by US ambassador and three US Republican members of congress, including Thomas Tancredo of California, threatening cessations of aid and work permits for the countries’ people to work in America, in order to prevent election of FMLN candidate Schafik Handal and win victory of Tony Saca of the Arena party. FMLN former guerilla group. Handal stated he would withdraw Salvadorean troops from Iraq, re-examination privatisations and renew diplomatic contacts with Cuba. Arena extreme rightwing party, pro-US, free market, responsible for death squads and the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Afghanistan 2004

Pressure placed by US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, on political candidates to withdraw in favour of Washington’s preferred candidate, Hamid Karzai.

Palestine 2005-6

Massive pressure by the Americans to prevent the election of Hamas, including funding of the Palestinian Authority by the National Endowment for Democracy.

This last country is my own suggestion, not Blum’s.

Great Britain?

Go and read various articles in Lobster, which describe the way the US and its various front organisations collaborated with the right-wing of the Labour party to stop possible Communist influence. In the 1980s Reagan also created the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, alias BAP, to cultivate rising politicians of both the left and the right, and make them more favourable towards America and the Atlantic alliance. These included Tony Blair and Ed Balls, but you won’t read about it in the Times, because it’s editor was also a BAP alumnus.

William Blum’s List of American Foreign Interventions: Part 2

February 15, 2017

Jamaica 1976
Various attempts to defeat Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Honduras 1980s
Arming, equipping, training and funding of Fascist government against dissidents, also supporting Contras in Nicaragua and Fascist forces in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Nicaragua
Civil War with the Contras against left-wing Sandinistas after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship.

Philippines 1970s-1990
Support of brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos

Seychelles 1979-81
Attempts to overthrow country’s leader, France Albert Rene, because he tried to turn his nation and the Indian Ocean into nuclear free zone.

Diego Garcia late 196-0s to Present
People of the largest of the Chagos islands forcibly relocated Mauritius and Seychelles so that Americans could build massive complex of military bases.

South Yemen, 1979-84
CIA backing of paramilitary forces during war between North and South Yemen, as South Yemen government appeared to be backed by Russia. In fact, the Russians backed North and South Yemen at different times.

South Korea
Support for military dictator, Chun Doo Hwan, in brutal suppression of workers’ and students’ uprising in Kwangju.

Chad 1981-2
Political manipulation of Chad government to force Libyan forces of Colonel Gaddafy to leave, aided Chadian forces in the Sudan to invade and overthrow Chadian government installing Hissen Habre as the ‘African General Pinochet’.

Grenada 1979-83
Operations against government of Maurice Bishop, and then invasion when Bishop government overthrown by ultra-leftist faction.

Suriname 1982-4
Abortive plot to overthrow Surinamese government for supporting Cuba.

Libya 1981-89
Attempts to overthrow Colonel Gaddafy.

Fiji 1987
Prime Minister Timoci Bavrada of the Labour Party overthrown as neutral in Cold War and wanted to make Fiji nuclear free zone.

Panama 1989
Overthrow of Manuel Noriega, long-term American ally in Central America for drug trafficking. The real reason to was intimidate Nicaragua, whose people were going to the elections two months later and stop them from voting for the Sandinistas.

Afghanistan 1979-92
Backing of Mujahideen rebels against Soviet-aligned government then Soviet forces.

El Salvador 1980-92
Backing of right-wing dictator and death squads in country’s civil war against dissidents, after first making sure the dissidents got nowhere through democratic means.

Haiti 1987-94
US government opposed reformist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, aiding Haiti government and its death squads against him. However, after he won the 1991, they were forced to allow him back in. They then extracted a promise from him that he would not aid poor at expense of the rich and would follow free trade economics. Kept army there for the rest of his term.

Bulgaria 1990-1
Massive campaign by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy and Agency for International Development to aid the Union of Democratic Forces against the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the successor to the Communists.

Albania 1991
Another campaign to keep the Communists out, in which the Americans supported the Democratic Party.

Somalia 1993
Attempts to kill Mohamed Aidid. The motive was probably less to feed the starving Somali people, and more likely because four oil companies wished to exploit the country and wanted to end the chaos there.

Iraq 1991-2003
American attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Colombia 1990s to Present
Aid by US to suppress left-wing guerillas.

Yugoslavia 1995-99
Campaigns against Serbia government during break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Ecuador 2000
Suppression of mass peaceful uprising by indigenous people of Quito, including trade unionists and junior military officers on orders from Washington, as this threatened neoliberalism.

Afghanistan 2001-to Present
Invasion and occupation of country after 9/11.

Venezuela 2001-4
Operations to oust Chavez.

Iraq 2003-to Present
Invasion and occupation.

Haiti 2004
President Aristide forced to resign by Americans because of his opposition to globalisation and the free market.

For much more information, see the chapter ‘A Concise History of United State Global Interventions, 1945 to the Present’ in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 162-220. I realise that many of the Communist regimes Washington sought to overthrow were hardly models of virtue themselves, and often responsible for horrific acts of repression. However, the US has also sought to overthrow liberal and Socialist governments for no better reason than that they sought to improve conditions for their own peoples against the wishes of the American multinationals. And the regimes Washington has backed have been truly horrific, particularly in Latin America.

So it’s actually a very good question whether America has ever really supported democracy, despite the passionate beliefs of its people and media, since the War.

‘In the Shadow of Mary Seacole’: Review

October 20, 2016

Tuesday evening, at 10.40 ITV broadcast a documentary, ‘In the Shadow of Mary Seacole’, in which the actor David Harewood went on a journey from Britain to Jamaica and the Crimea tracing the life of Mary Seacole. Seacole was one of the Victorian heroines that have been forgotten with the march of time. In her forties, she went to Crimea to open a hotel to serve the troops, as well as going on to the battlefield to try to heal them with traditional Jamaican herbal remedies. She was at one time as popular as Florence Nightingale, and her memory has been preserved by Black historians and activists. Amongst those Harewood spoke to about her, were a group of mainly Black, but with one or two White ladies, who had formed a society to commemorate her. These ladies had succeeded in their campaign for a monument to be erected to her. As Harewood traced Seacole’s physical journey around the globe, so he also followed the story of the her statue from the initial design as a maquette, or scale model, to the completion of the final, 3 metre tall statue and its installation outside one of London’s hospitals.

Apart from Harewood himself and the ladies of his commemoration society, the other speakers in the programme included Diane Abbott, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the comedian Jo Brand, a Black actress, a White woman, who had written a biography of Seacole, and a biographer of Florence Nightingale. The latter was very critical of Mary Seacole. He felt that, in contrast to Nightingale, Seacole’s achievements in nursing had been blown out of proportion. He declared that there was no evidence she had saved thousands of lives. He felt she was only being commemorated due to ‘political correctness’ – the need to find a Black counterpart to Nightingale. He stated he had no objection to a statue being put up to her, but did object to where it was to be sited: outside the very hospital associated with Nightingale. Harewood correctly commented that she continued to divide opinions today.

He began the programme at the side of the lakes in Birmingham, where he and his brother used to play as children. He said that at the time he was growing up in the 70s, there were no major figures of his skin colour, and no women. Mary Seacole had been a particular heroine of his. Seacole had been born in Jamaica in 1805, the illegitimate daughter of a free Black woman and a Scots soldier. Her mother ran a boarding house, and it was from her mother that she also learnt her knowledge of Jamaican herbal medicine. She later on married a White Englishman, Horatio Hamilton, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton. The marriage unfortunately only lasted nine years. Hamilton was sickly, and Seacole nursed him through his final years before his death. With the outbreak of the Crimean War, Seacole used her own money to journey to Crimea to construct a hotel. There she was known for serving good food, as well as dispensing ‘liquors’ to the troops. Her hotel was particularly patronised by the officer class.

Harewood explained that the purpose of the War had been to quell fears that the Russians were going to expand southward. The Crimea, then as now, was home to the Russian fleet. And so the British invaded and besieged the town of Sebastopol. After several years of fighting, the British managed to break the Russians, who retreated, sinking their own ships as they did so. The sequences showing the Crimean War were illustrated by clips from a Russian movie made in 1912.

Mary’s fortunes were not so successful, however. She came back to Britain in debt. A banquet was held in her honour, in order to raise money for her, supported by several of the soldiers. Although the banquet was a success, it did not raise any money for her, and she died penniless, eventually to be all but forgotten. She had, however, left an autobiography, a modern edition of which Harewood was shown reading.

The sculptor showed Harewood the model he had made. This would show Seacole as the strong, purposeful woman she was, striding forward with her clothes swirling around her. Behind would be a metal disc, which would bear the imprint of the ground from Crimea. It was designed to be lit up from below at night. To illustrate this, the sculptor showed Harewood the intended effect using the light from his mobile phone. His intention was not only to show Seacole herself, but that the shadows of the people admiring the statue would also be cast onto the disc behind her, so that for a brief moment they too would share her space.

The sculptor stated that there were a lot of photographs showing Seacole’s face from the front, but he wanted to know what she looked like from all sides. Thus he asked Harewood to go to the archives in Jamaica to see what material they had on her. The British archivist there produced a bust of the heroine, in reddish-brown clay, that was made by one of the army surgeons. It was, he said, one of the rarest of its type in the archives and easily the most valuable. Harewood duly photographed the bust from all angles.

Also in Jamaica, Harewood spoke to a former pharmacist, a doctor, who had given up her career in orthodox medicine for one in complementary healing. She explained that Seacole didn’t have any formal medical training, but would have been a ‘doctress’. This meant that she had a knowledge of herbal lore, which she used to treat and heal. It was this knowledge that she used to treat the wounded squaddies on the frozen battlefields of the Crimea.

This led to Harewood and the sculptor, back home in England, discussing Seacole’s features. There’s a debate and a little controversy over how ‘Black’ Seacole was. She was clearly a woman of African heritage, but the sculptor also felt that there would have been some elements in her appearance from her White heritage. Her features, he believed, would have been a little narrower from other Black Jamaicans as a result. He then sent Harewood on to the next stage of his journey of discovery, to the Crimea to find suitable ground from which to take the impressions for the statue’s metal disc.

At the Crimea, he met a local historian, a mature lady, who guided him to some of the battle sites. He looked over the ‘Valley of Death’ through which the Light Brigade charged to spike the Russian guns, celebrated in Tennyson’s poem, and illustrated in a painting from the period. Poring over maps, he traced the site of Seacole’s hotel, and was delighted to discover that there were still relics of her stay littering the ground. These included some of the wine and alcohol bottles she had stocked. Looking at the shards of glass, Harewood and the historian discussed how the British used to shoot the tops off the bottles. Harewood was accompanied on his journey by the technician, who was going to take the impression of the ground. While Harewood and the historian discussed Seacole’s hotel and its remains, he went off to find a suitable rock formation. This was scanned using a laser, which the technician held up to shoot its rays at the rock face, slowly building up a three dimensional computer model of its surface.

The Black actress commented on what a strong, modern woman Seacole would have been. She had travelled on her own across the world without a husband, something which was extremely rare at the time, and which few women did today.

Back in England, Harewood returned to see the immense metal armature the sculptor had constructed, which would serve as the three-dimensional framework for the clay from which the statue would be made. The sculptor trowelled a few pieces of clay into place before inviting Harewood to join in. Harewood did so, but not unsurprisingly found stirring and getting the great gobs of clay from the bucket onto his trowel, and then on to the frame hard work. It struck me that this part of the statue’s construction was not so much like the image of sculpture everyone has, with delicate fingers moulding pliant clay, so much as like a navvy laying down mortar on a brick wall.

Harewood then said that there were a few more things that needed to be done to the statue, with footage of it being covered with various other substances, one of which looked like rubber, before it was due to be taken to be cast into bronze. The programme showed the statue being driven to the foundry on the back of an open truck, securely fastened with tarpaulin and ropes. Once there, the programme showed the molten bronze being poured from a crucible into the mould formed from the clay statue. This was the moment of truth, and the sculptor described it as a form of alchemy.

The statue was being cast in pieces, and the sculptor took Harewood to see some of the pieces that had already been cast, which included her head. At this stage of the process, the bronze was a bright, coppery colour. The pieces would be assembled and welded together. The welding marks would then be removed, before the statue was finally put in place. There was a little footage of this being done. When completed, the statue was a much darker colour.

The programme showed the ceremony for the statue’s installation. Amongst those speaking were Diane Abbott, and the sculptor himself. He said in his speech that there were plenty of statues of White men, mostly monarchs and generals, but only 15 per cent of the statues in Britain were of women, and very few Black people. It had therefore been his privilege to try to redress this. Back in the studio, Jo Brand paid tribute to Seacole, saying that she was a woman of immense compassion. Her biographer answered the criticisms of Nightingale’s biographer by saying that the comments about her going to run a hotel there were meant to disparage her accomplishment by pointing out that there was also a commercial motive. But this did not detract from her achievements. She also answered the criticism that Seacole didn’t have formal medical training by pointing out that nursing as a distinct, respected profession didn’t exist at the time, and was only created by Nightingale after the War. Harewood himself also commented, stating that there were few, if any, statues of people of his colour. But it was important to have them, to show that people of colour had been a part of this country’s history for a very long time.

It was an interesting glimpse into the life of a determined woman, who was rightly celebrated in her day. I don’t think you could quite make her Nightingale’s equal – Nightingale herself was an expert mathematician, who added much to statistics, and whose achievements included the invention of the pie chart. And Nightingale is the genius behind the creation of modern nursing. Nevertheless, she played her bit providing comfort to the wounded in during the horrors of the Crimean War. Brand at one point said she must have been an immense comfort to some poor, teenage soldier dying far away from his mother. And the troops also doubtless appreciated the alcohol she brought on to the battlefield. So, while may be not as great a figure as Nightingale, she certainly deserved her statue.

One other thing also struck me about Seacole and her unofficial status as ‘doctress’. While this may strike people today, used to modern, professional scientific medicine, as something close to magic, it would have been immediately familiar to the ordinary troopers from working class or rural poor backgrounds. Before it was applied to African spiritual healers and practitioners, the term ‘witchdoctor’ originally meant the white witches and wizards of rural Britain, to whom the poor turned to heal their illnesses. Professional doctors before the establishment of the NHS and the welfare state were rare in rural areas, and expensive. Unofficial healers with a knowledge of herbalism were therefore the only people available to the poor, whether they were White British or Black Jamaicans. Professional doctors also had a reputation as rapacious quacks, whose treatments were more likely to kill you as cure you. The rank and file squaddies in the British army were thus probably more prepared to trust her as the type of healer they had grown up with at home, than the properly trained medical men. And clearly, the army surgeon, who had sculpted the bust respected her courage and professionalism, otherwise he would not have tried to preserve her image in clay.

And Harewood is right: Black people have been in Britain since the Romans. It is thus only right that Seacole should have a statue in her honour.

ITV Programme on Black Victorian Heroine Mary Seacole

October 18, 2016

mary-seacole-pic

ITV tonight are broadcasting a documentary about Mary Seacole, one of the Victorian heroines you don’t hear about. The blurb in the Radio Times for the documentary runs

In the Shadow of Mary Seacole

The contribution of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse of Scottish and African descent, to caring for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War has been increasingly acknowledged over recent years. Actor David Harewood embarks on a highly personal journey of discovery as he follows the creation of a statue of the woman who has always been a heroine to him.

The programme’s on at 10.40 today, 18th October 2016.

Seacole was as big a heroine in her time as the nurse everyone’s heard of, Florence Nightingale. There were mass petitions and crowds gathered to see her honoured, and it’s a very sore point with many Black activists that she has been so comprehensively forgotten. They see it as being due to racism, while I think that part of it may also be due to Nightingale having been the better self-publicist.

Regardless of this issue, she is one of Black Britain’s greatest heroines, and indeed one of this country’s greatest irrespective of colour, and it’s only right that her story should also be brought back to public memory and respect.

Workfare and Anti-Slavery Legislation

August 23, 2015

Left-wing bloggers against workfare, like Johnny Void, have repeatedly pointed out that workfare constitutes a form of slavery. Under the government’s welfare to work reforms, benefit claimants can be forced to work for companies for no pay, if they wish to receive their benefits. This applies even if the claimant has been sanctioned, so that they receive no benefit payments whatsoever, and are forced to use their savings or go to a food bank. Even if this does not constitute slavery, it certainly constitutes forced labour, which is almost the same and just as offensive under international law.

Yesterday I put the oath medieval slaves took in seventh century France, when poverty forced them to give up their freedom and become a lord’s slave. I pointed out how close this was to current workfare and in particular the use of workfare labour when the claimant has been sanctioned.

Sasson commented on the piece that it was ironic that the Tories were boasting about the efforts they were making to combat modern slavery, while bringing it back with their wretched welfare reforms. That’s exactly right, and I doubt if the point’s been lost on other left-wing commenters and bloggers either.

Mike over at Benefitbloodbath and other bloggers have pointed out that slavery is illegal under article 4 of the UN code of Human Rights. It is also illegal under British national and imperial law.

Slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire with the passage of Edward Stanley’s slavery abolition bill at midnight on the 31st July 1833. It received royal assent nearly a month later on the 28th August. Under its provisions, all slaves were automatically freed from the 1st August of that year. Even before this government decided to ban slavery formally, it had legally ceased to exist in the British Empire under the terms of Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c.73.

It could be argued that rather than being the property of private individuals, like the slaves freed under the above Slavery Abolition Act, those placed on workfare are most similar to the slaves owned by the British crown. These were slaves owned by the British state, some of whom it appears were apprenticed or indentured to private masters. Crown slaves in the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius and Trinidad were given their freedom under the orders of British government c. 1831. See the House of Commons Papers 1831: Slave Emancipation: Crown Slaves.

Liberated Africans, which was the term used by the British government to describe the slaves liberated from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy, were also freed by the British government. They were placed under the custody of the Crown, and apprenticed to individual private masters, who were supposed to teach them how they could support themselves as self-reliant, independent citizens. When they were given their freedom, the British government order a general muster of the Black and coloured population in the West Indies. Those, who had served their apprenticeships were to be given a certificate declaring them to be free. Those still serving their apprenticeships were to have them cancelled. They were then allowed to remain in the colony with the same rights as the rest of the free Black population. See the government paper House of Commons Papers 1831: Africans Captured: Apprenticed Africans.

Slavery was also declared to be non-existent under British law over fifty years earlier, with the Mansfield judgement on the Somerset case in 1772. James Somerset was a slave belonging to James Steuart. Steuart wished to take him from Britain to America to sell him. Somerset refused to go, and ran away. He was aided by British abolitionist campaigners, who pleaded habeas corpus in his defence, so that he could remain in the country during the trial. Habeas Corpus is, of course, one of the provisions in that document, Magna Carta, which David Cameron confessed to not knowing what it was on Letterman. The case was brought by the British anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, who used it as a test case to see if slavery existed under British law. Lord Mansfield, reviewing the law, declared that it didn’t.

This meant that slavery was unenforceable in Britain. The owners of slaves, who ran away, could not use the law to reclaim their property.

Mansfield also made some stinging criticisms of slavery itself. In his ruling, he declared

‘The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from the memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.’

Which pretty much applies to workfare, as it has been introduced by law. It is so odious that, as Johnny Void has reported, the government has refused to disclose the identities of the companies, that have signed up for it for fear that public pressure will force the same companies to abandon it once their support is known. This is tacit admission that Mansfield is right, even today.

Furthermore, the enslaved themselves were aware of Mansfield’s judgement in America and the Caribbean, and made use of it to demand their freedom. In the early 19th century several slaves came forward to claim their freedom after returning to the Caribbean from England, or British territory, considering that they had effectively been given their freedom through residence there. They were Grace James, ‘Robert’, and ‘Rachael’ and ‘John Smith’. Grace James had been taken to England in 1822 by her mistress, Ann Allan. She returned to Antigua with her mistress the following year, 1823. Two years later she presented herself to the Collector of Customs, claiming that she had been illegally held in slavery and demanding her freedom under the terms of the 1824 Consolidation of Slavery Act. Robert had also been taken to England in 1815 by his master, William Burnthorne. They returned to Antigua in 1818. Like Grace James, Robert claimed his freedom through his residence in England, whose law did not recognise slavery.

Rachael and John Smith had come to Antigua from Barbados. They had gone with their master, Major Watts, to Gibraltar, a British territory, before returning to Barbados in 1819. Their claim to freedom is slightly different to the others, as they alleged that they had been given certificates of freedom in Gibraltar, but had given this to a resident of the island to register after they returned, when they were seized by Watts’ mother under power of attorney. The Antiguan solicitor-general, Musgrave, concurred with the slaves, declaring that they were now free and citing the precedents under English medieval law. See the government pamphlet Slaves in the Colonies: A Copy of Any Information.

It seems to me that these cases show how dubious workfare is legally, especially when it is applied to benefit claimants, who have been sanctioned. I think the Mansfield judgement, and the cases of Grace James, Robert, Rachael and John Smith could be cited to show that in such a case, even if workfare did not constitute slavery per se, it should be unenforceable.

A New System of an Old Slavery: George Osborne’s Workfare and 19th Century Negro ‘Apprenticeship’

November 9, 2013

Slave Pic

Illustration of slave in the mask and shackles used by Europeans to imprison them.

Earlier this week I reblogged a piece from The Void, reporting @refuted’s uncovering of George Osborne’s proposals to expand workfare. Under this new scheme, compulsory workfare, directed by the Jobcentre, would include those in part-time work and the disabled. Those already doing voluntary work would also be forced to go on workfare, and work elsewhere, if their supervisors decided that their current unpaid employment was not appropriate. This is all alarming enough, but what is particularly abhorrent is the plan force even those, who receive no benefits at all, into workfare.

I’ve blogged before about the similarity between workfare and slavery. At the moment although workfare is degrading and exploitative, it is not yet actual, literal slavery. Osborne’s proposal to make those without benefits do it tips it over into the real thing.

Cameron Pic

Osborne Pic

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Esther McVey picture

From Top: David Cameron, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Their workfare schemes mark the reintroduction of slavery to Britain after 173 years.

Slavery comes in a variety of different forms, some less malign than others. Most people know about Western chattel slavery, but there are other forms, such as serfdom, and various types of bonded, indentured or customary labour. The villeins of medieval Europe were serfs, who were tied to their land. In return for their holdings, they were expected to perform a certain numbers of days’ labour on their masters demein. When so working, they were supervised by the beadle, the lord’s steward, who held a cudgel or whip as a symbol of his authority and his right to beat them. They could not marry without asking the permission of their lord, and were required to pay a fee – the merchet – when they did. As the law considered them subhuman, the legal terminology for their families did not dignify them with the human term. Instead they were called ‘sequelae’ – ‘broods’. When they died, the lord of the manor took their ‘best beast’ – their best cow. These were the conditions that led to the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century, and similar peasant rebellions in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Serfdom in England eventually withered away as customary work was commuted into cash payments. Despite this, the last English serf died in the mid-seventeenth century.

Serfdom Pic

Serfdom continued to survive in the rest of Europe into the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was finally abolished in France during the French Revolution. It survived in parts of Germany until the 1820s, and in Russia until 1865, when they were liberated by Tsar Alexander II.

Bonded Labour in Scots Mining

Although serfdom and slavery did not exist in English law, other forms of servitude certainly did exist in Britain in eighteenth and nineteenth century. The coal miners in Scotland were bonded labourers, not quite slaves, but still considered the property of the mine owners. Needless to say, the British and particularly the Scots aristocracy and business elite viewed with alarm the solidarity these White slaves showed towards their Black counterparts in the West Indies and elsewhere. There was also little racism amongst White miners towards their Black colleagues, as they were all, regardless of their colour, exploited slaves working in dangerous and horrific conditions.

Global Slavery in Late 20th and 21st Centuries

Horrifically, slavery has survived into the 21st century. The book Disposable People, published in the 1990s, describes the various forms of slavery that existed in the closing decade of the 20th century, and which still blights humanity today. Traditional, chattel slavery exists in Mauretania. Bonded labour is used Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the labourers are low-cast Muslims – the Sheiks – and Christians in the brick industry. Then there is the horrific conditions for the workers and women forced into prostitution in the industrial towns and logging camps in south-east Asia, such as Thailand. It also exists in Brazil, where recent documentaries have shown government organisations and police units raiding and freeing slaves held captive in compounds. In this country, several farmers have been prosecuted for enslaving illegal immigrants to the UK, holding them virtual prisoners in horrific conditions and paying them 20p per week. Migrant workers from Pakistan, India, the Phillipines and Africa are also treated as slaves in the Gulf Arab states. The law in these countries states that foreigners entering the country must have a personal sponsor responsible for them. When these labourers enter the Gulf Arab states to work, their employers immediately seize their passports. They are then housed in appalling workers’ barracks, and forced to work extremely long hours in the blazing heat with little protection or medical care. Many of the personal staff rich Arabs take to serve them when they go to live in the West are also treated as slaves. Again, their employers take their passports and other documents, and force them to work extremely long hours, and are beaten as a punishment for any kind of unsatisfactory behaviour. One of the case histories in the book is of a maid for an Arab woman in London, who was forced to stand at the door, waiting for her mistress’ return when she went out, no matter how long the mistress was absent. On her return, the maid was expected to massage her hands, and struck and abused if this was not done properly.

Enslavement of African Children by Foster Parents

Slavery also exists through the custom of some African peoples of sending their children to be fostered by wealthier relatives. The motive for this is clearly the expectation that the child will have better opportunities through living and growing up in the household of a family member, who is wealthier and better educated. Unfortunately, the opposite is frequently true. African children, who have been sent to stay with their richer relations in Africa and in Europe, have found themselves enslaved and abused by the very people their parents trusted to look after them. The Victoria Climbie case, in which a young African girl sent to live with a relative in London was eventually abused and killed by the woman and her partner was national news, shocking and disgusting the British public. Unfortunately, it is one instance of a wider pattern of abuse amongst some African immigrants.

The book estimated that there were about 20 million slaves around the world. My guess is that this number has massively expanded in the past two decades. The Independent newspaper a week or so ago stated that there were 25 million prostitutes, who were practically enslaved by ruthless recruiters and pimps, across Europe today. Furthermore, while the elites in the Developing World have become, like their counterparts in the West, massively rich, the poor has become much poorer. They are now working longer hours, for less pay, and in worse conditions. In countries like China industry also uses cheap labour from prisoners and the political inmates in forced labour camps. There are 60 million people kept in these political gulags across China. Disposable People stated that there are difficulties estimating the true number of slaves across the world, and freeing them because slavery is frequently disguised under a number of covers, such as long term labour contracts.

Similarity Between Workfare and 19th Century ‘Negro Apprenticeship’

George Osborne’s proposals for the expansion of workfare is, I believe, similarly disguised system of slavery. Especially, and blatantly when the proposed scheme does not allow those placed on it to be given welfare benefit.

I’ve also blogged before now on the close similarity between Cameron, Osborne and IDS’ workfare, and similar schemes used in Nazi Germany to solve unemployment and provide cheap labour for industry. It is also extremely similar to ‘Negro Apprenticeship’, a form of servitude that effectively extended the enslavement of Blacks in some of the British colonies beyond the formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The authorities in Britain and some of the larger Caribbean colonies, which were sparsely populated with abundant uncultivated land, such as Jamaica, feared that the liberation of their slave populations would result in economic and social collapsed. They believed that unless suitable steps were taken, the former slaves would abandon their former masters’ estates and withdraw to occupy the unused land. It was believed that the slaves were idle. The land in Jamaica was extremely fertile, so it would be possible for a man to support himself and his family by only working three days a week. They were therefore afraid that the freed slaves would simply return to subsistence agriculture, which would support only themselves and their families. The commercial economy of these colonies, based on the export of sugar, would therefore collapse, and a prosperous, civilised nation would fall into poverty and barbarism. The authorities attempted to prevent this by instituting a period of ‘apprenticeship’ following the formal abolition of slavery in 1837. Under its provisions, the former slaves would continue to work on their masters’ plantations over a period of four to seven years. During this period the amount of time they spent working for their masters would be gradually reduced, until they were finally free, independent men and women. In practice, however, this staggering did not occur, and they continued effectively work as slaves until 1840.

The Apprenticeship system was greeted with outrage by the slaves themselves, and White and free Coloured abolitionists in the Caribbean and Europe. The government was particularly alarmed when placards denouncing Negro Apprenticeship were put up on the walls in Birmingham. Public pressure forced the government to act, and Negro Apprenticeship was eventually ended.

There are several points of similarity between 19th century post-slavery Negro Apprenticeship, and Osborne’s workfare.

1. Both systems assume that those subject to them are idle and socially irresponsible. The point of such schemes is ostensibly to prepare those on them – former slaves in the 19th century, unemployed workers in the 21st, to become independent, self-reliant, responsible members of society.

2. In both systems, the worker’s personal freedom is removed, and they are expected to work for others for no or little pay. The fact that at the moment, most people on workfare receive some kind of benefit does not necessarily disqualify it as a system of slavery. As the plantation system became firmly established in the Caribbean in the 18th century, so skilled slave artisans were frequently hired out by their masters to work for others in return for wages. Moreover, medieval serfs and slaves in the British Caribbean possessed their own plots of land, on which they could work for themselves. Medieval law termed this land, which the serf cultivated for himself, his peculium. This is paralleled in 21st century by those in voluntary or part-time work elsewhere, whom Osborne now wishes to force into workfare. You could also make out a case for the agencies, like Ingeneus, that administer the workfare schemes, as forming the 21st century equivalent of those slave masters, who hired out their skilled slaves.

3. Both systems are based on providing cheap labour to support the countries’ national economy and big business. In the 19th century this consisted of forcing the former slaves to work for their plantation masters. In early 21st century Britain this means sending the unemployed to stack shelves in Sainsbury’s, or any of the other major firms that sign up to his scheme.

Finally, there is a further parallel between 19th century slavery and the Tories’ campaign to drive down working conditions and raise working hours. Both were partly based on the argument that this must be done in order to maintain the British industrial competitiveness. One of the arguments used by the opponents of abolition in the 19th century was that the abolition of slavery would make British sugar too expensive to compete globally with foreign, slave produced sugar. Similarly, the authors of Britannia Unchained declared that British workers were too lazy and pampered to compete with countries like India and China, where labour is cheaper and works much longer hours.

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, Britannia Unchained, Workfare and the ‘Coolie Trade

If one wished to bring race into this, one could argue that Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, is an ‘Uncle Tom’. Patel is Asian, and her arrival and rise in the Conservative Party was greeted by the Daily Mail as showing that the Conservative Party were embracing the Black and Asian community. On their part, the British Blacks and Asians were also putting aside their racial resentments, to play a role in wider British society. It was hinted that the policy of racial resentment was exclusively the province of the Left, which was simply interested in picking over past grievances for its own, purely sectional gain.

I’ve described Osborne’s expanded workfare scheme as ‘a new system of slavery’ in this post’s title. This was quite deliberate. From 1817 onwards the British government attempted to find labourers elsewhere to replace the Black plantation slaves. Black slaves resented their enslavement, and were perceived as recalcitrant workers. They were also inclined to rebel. Hence the title of one of Dr. Richard Hill’s books, The Blacks Who Defeated Slavery, if I remember the title correctly. After Abolition, they attempted to find other peoples, who would supply cheap labour to the plantations in place of the former slaves. The result was the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured immigrants to the Caribbean from China, and what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These were in theory free. In return for their years’ of work on the plantations, they would receive wages and a grant of land. In practice they were ruthlessly exploited, working extremely long hours in poor conditions. The death rate could be extremely high, and contact with their families and loved ones in their homelands was frequently non-existent. Wives and children of indentured labourers often could not hear from their husbands and fathers for 20 years or so. Many were the victims of kidnappers, and forced into slavery across the kala pani – the Black Waters surrounding India. Leading British politicians denounced the Coolie Trade as ‘a new system of slavery’, which forms the title of the history of the trade by Hugh Tinker. I urge anyone with an interest in this black chapter of British imperial history to read it. I am certainly not suggesting that Patel and her colleagues are advocating replacing British workers with those from China, the Indian sub-continent, or elsewhere in the Developing World. What I am saying is that Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained wish to import the systems of exploitation in these countries to British workers. And that includes Asian and Black Brits, whose parents and grandparents came to this country in the hope of finding work that was better paid and in better conditions, than those in their countries of origin. Patel is destroying the aspirations of her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and in that sense surely well deserves to be called an Uncle Tom.

The parallels between 19th century slavery and Osborne’s plans for workfare are now so close, that I believe it may be worthwhile contacting human rights organisations like Anti-Slavery International about them, and campaigning against them as literal slavery. Anti-Slavery International is a charity dedicated to combatting slavery throughout the world. In 1995 the exhibition ‘A Respectable Trade’ held by City Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol on the city’s past as a major slave port included pamphlets by Anti-Slavery International, and donation and membership forms for those wishing to continue the fight of great liberators like Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Amongst their pamphlets on slavery were those on exploitative working conditions in the UK, including child labour. Osborne’s workfare should surely be of concern to anyone opposed to seeing slavery revived in any form whatsoever.

1842 Punch

‘Capital and Labour’: a bitter cartoon from Punch from 1842, showing the luxury enjoyed by the rich contrasted with the poverty and squalor endured by the labouring poor which support them. This is kind of system Cameron and co. wish to restore.

Say No to Slavery Pic
Sources

I’ve mentioned a number of excellent books on slavery and the ‘Coolie Trade’ in this post. Other excellent books include Hugh Thomas’ Slavery, Dr Richard Hill’s Blacks in Bondage and Blacks in Freedom, written by a former member of the Jamaican independence movement, and Bill Yenne’s illustrated book, Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. This last contains some truly horrific photographs from the 19th century of slaves, who were abused and mutilated

Christianity, Atlantic Slavery and Abolition

February 13, 2008

‘We will be slaves no more

Since Christ has made us free

Has nailed our tyrants to the cross

And bought our liberty’,

– Popular slave song.

 Last year, 2007, was the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire in 1807. A number of British cities involved in the trade staged special exhibitions and events marking abolition. At the beginning of the year, there was a special service of remembrance attended by the Queen and leading British politicians held at Westminster abbey. Frank Walton over at Atheism Sucks mentioned that last month, January, was Black History month. In Britain Black History month has been October for the past couple of years. Given the immense importance of the abolition of slavery has had in shaping American and European attitudes towards slavery, freedom, race and human dignity, I thought I’d also review the immense contribution Christianity made to regulating the trade in an attempt to make it more humane, and finally to abolishing it all together. This was done by Christians of a variety of denominations – Roman Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and Moravians.  There had, it is true, been revolts by slaves long before Christians campaigned for the abolition of slavery, but these were revolts by slaves against their own enslavement, not against slavery as an institution. The 18th and 19th century abolitionist campaigns went beyond this, demanding not just the liberation of slaves, but the complete end to slavery as a social institution.

Regulation of Slavery by Roman Catholicism

As plantation slavery emerged with the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans, so the Papacy attempted to regulate it and ameliorate its excesses for Roman Catholics. The Church condemned either the trade itself, or slavery, in 1462, 1741, 1815 and 1839. 1 In the Spanish empire, the legal position of slaves was essentially a continuation of the medieval legal provisions established in the common law code of 1250, Las Siete Partidas. This included rights for the slaves, and their masters’ obligations towards them. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church recognised slaves’ humanity and demanded their humane treatment. 2 A Roman Catholic Caribbean synod of 1622 further codified the legal position of slaves, establishing sanctions for masters who prevented their slaves from attending mass or receiving religious instruction on Feast Days. 3 The Spanish law code of 1789 stipulated that masters had to encourage their slaves to marriage and provided for the slave’s purchase of their freedom in instalments in a process termed coartacion, although even after liberation the slave remained a second-class citizen, unable to carry arms, and forced to wear a certain type of dress and with some legal obligations towards their former masters. 4 Slaves were also able to gain their freedom through co-operation with their masters or the authorities in certain criminal cases. Slaves accused of crimes, even murder, enjoyed the same rights of prosecution and trial as free people. There was also a limitation on the punishment inflicted on slaves who failed to perform their duties. By law a slave could only be given a maximum of 25 lashes, in such away that they did not bruise nor draw blood. Slaves who escaped to Cuba to embrace Roman Catholicism were protected by a royal order of 1733. 5 Slaves also often enjoyed the same rights to holidays and free days as the rest of society. In Brazil slaves were free on Sundays and all holidays, and were allowed to work for themselves to build up money in order to purchase their freedom. 6 Furthermore, in Brazil slaves were married in church. Slave families could not be separated by sale. Their murder at the hands of a sadistic master was prohibited. 7 Blacks and people of mixed race enjoyed a freedom in Spain that they did not have further north. They weren’t just labourers, but were also skilled craftsmen, soldiers, musicians and even became priests and judges. ‘All these things were possible to the slave before the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, and it was for this reason (amongst others) that emancipation in Iberian domonions occurred without violence, bloodshed or civil war.’ 8

Protestant Insistence on Equality of Christians Regardless of Race

The Protestant churches too initially insisted on the full humanity of the slave. The Dutch Reformed Church at the 17th century synod of Dort declared that slaves who converted to Christianity ‘ought to enjoy equal rights of liberty with other Christians.’ 9 This racial equality even existed in Cape Colony, long before the rise of apartheid. In the 17th century the mixed race children of European fathers were freed when they reached adulthood, provided that they spoke Dutch and were confirmed members of the church.  ‘During the early the period freed slaves of mixed ancestry were not viewed as a separate ethnic group; they had all the civil rights of whites, with whom they intermarried, although this situation changed in the 18th century.’ 10

Denial of Slaves’ Equality 

This situation changed in the 17th and 18th centuries as the planters became reluctant to see their slaves enjoy the possibility of liberty that could be offered by conversion to Christianity. In Jamaica slaves were given very little free time to cultivate their own plots of land, and were discouraged from Christian, or indeed any other religious practices. 11 Marriage was discouraged and promiscuity encouraged, in order to increase their numbers and their profitability by selling members of a slave family separately. It was also feared that family life would give them a place in society and give them ideas above their station. 12 Initially, the churches collaborated with this attitude. ‘In the meantime, the Anglican clergy generally took the path of discretion and exhorted the slaves to please their masters by working hard, and to accept with resignation their earthly lot which, whether predestined by God ornot, had somehow devolved upon them.’ 13 The Anglican Thomas Secker declared in 1740 that ‘Scripture, far from making any alteration in civil rights, expressly directs taht every man abide in the condition wherein he is called, with great indifference of mind concerning outward circumstances.’ 14

Christian Opposition to Slavery and the Slave Trade 

This was not the attitude of other Christian denominations, however. Although George Fox, the founder of the Quaker faith, in his visit to Barbados in 1671 had told the slaves he tried to convert to ‘to be subject to their masters and governors’, by the late 17th century Quakers were opposed to slavery. 15 This was not such a great step for them. Although Fox accepted slavery, he strongly believed that masters had a duty to treat their slaves humanely, and that they should be freed after a certain period of time. 16 They came to this view from their conviction that Christ had died for all humanity, regardless of colour. ”Christ died for all,’ declaimed the great Quaker Geroge Fox, ‘for the Taiwanese and for the blacks as for you that are called whites.” 17 In 1680 the Quaker Morgan Godwyn stated that ‘Negro’s are men, and therefore are invested with the same right … that being thus qualified and invested to deprive them of this right is the highest injustice.’ 18 In 1727 the Quakers resolved that involvement in slavery or the slave trade ‘is not a commendable nor allowed practice, and is therefore censured by this meeting.’ 19 Nevertheless, some Quakers continued to own slaves, although many firmly rejected their personal involvement with the trade. Dr. John Lettsom, for example, who had been born into a slave-owning family in Tortola, freed his slaves in 1767 after his return from England, where he had gone to receive his education and medical training. 20 In 1776 the Quakers requested everyone who participated in the slave-trade to resign their membership of the Society. 21 Other Christian leaders also stressed the common humanity of slaves. The Boston judge Samuel Sewall, a Presbyterian, wrote an early anti-slavery tract explicitly based on the Bible, The Selling of Joseph in 1700. 22 The Methodist preacher George Whitefield exhorted Whites to consider slave children as the equals of their own. ‘Think your children are in any way better by nature than the poor negroes? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin, as white men are; and both, if born and bred up here, I am persuaded, are naturally capable of the same improvement.’ 23

The greatest opposition to the slave trade, however, came from the Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1756. This group won a major victory in the 1772 legal decision regarding the slave, James Somerset. Somerset had been brought to England by his master, from whom he escaped. He was then recaptured, and faced export for sale in Jamaica. After a lengthy trial, the court ruled that there was no provision supporting slavery in English law, and Somerset was freed. Although it was not a victory for abolition, it did reinforce opposition to slavery in Britain. 24

The leaders of the British anti-slavery campaign were William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and John Newton, a former captain of a slave ship and Anglican priest. Wilberforce had been elected an MP for Hull in 1780. 25 A favourite figure in British high society and a gambler, Wilberforce experienced a profound religious conversion in 1785 and contacted John Newton, then the rector of Olney, about becoming an Anglican priest in 1785. 26 Newton persuaded him to continue in his political career, but combine it with his Christian principles. In a letter to Samuel Cowper of January 1786, Newton stated ‘I hope the Lord will make him a blessing, both as a Christian and as a statesman. How seldom do these characters coincide! But they are not incompatible.’ 27 Newton was not to be disappointed. Convinced of the fundamental evil of slavery, Wilberforce began a long parliamentary campaign against the slave trade, submitting bills against it in 1788, 1791, 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, 1798, 1799 and 1802. 28 The Quakers had, already, called for the formation of a committee at their London Yearly Meeting in 1783 to draft a petition to parliament to outlaw the slave trade. 29 Another pillar of the British anti-slavery campaign was Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson was the son of an Anglican curate, was going to enter the church himself before he turned his energies to attacking the slave trade. 30 Indefatiguable in gathering information on the ‘abominable trade’, Clarkson travelled to slaving ports around Britain and even several times to Africa interview the captains and crew of slave ships. In his career he searched 317 to find a willing witness to the slave trade. 31 Wilberforce and Clarkson were supported in their efforts by John Newton and the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Newton, the reformed captain of a slave ship, supported the Abolitionist campaign with the 1788 pamphlet, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. 32 In it, Newton vividly described the appalling death rate among slaves and crew aboard the slave ships, and the rape and sexual abuse of slave women. Attacking notions that the abuse of African women was acceptable, as they lacked the sensibility of White women, Newton stated firmly ”I dare contradict them in the strongest terms … I have lived long and conversed much among these supposed savages. I have often slept in their towns … with regard to teh women in Sherbro where I was the most acquainted, Ihave seen many instances of modesty and even delicacy which would not disgrace an English woman.’ 33 Newton’s pamphlet was strongly supported by the Anti-Slavery Society, then called The Society for Effcting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which sent unsold copies of it to every MP, both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. 34 In February, he gave his personal testimony on the slave trade to a Privy Council established by parliament to investigate it. 33 Newton further corresponded with Phillips, the president of the Society, and gave further evidence before a parliamentary select committee in 1790. 35 For Newton, the people of the Sherbro district ‘are in a degree civilised, often friendly, and may be trusted where they have been previously deceived by the Europeans. I have lived in peace and safety amongst them when I have been the only White man amongst them for a great distance.’ 36

 18th Century Materialist Scientific Racism

Although this may strike contemporary readers as rather patronising, it is very far from the racist views of Black Africans generally held in the 18th century. The 1797 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica declared that ‘vices the most notorious seem to be the portion of this unhappy race: idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness adn intemperance, are said to have extinguished the principles of natural law, and to have silenced the reproofs of conscience. They are strangers to every sentiment of compassion, and are an awful example of the corruption of man when left to himself.’ 37 Freethinkers shared this prejudiced. M. Le Romain’s entry ‘Negre‘ in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie declared that ‘they appear to constitute a new species of mankind’, describing them as the ‘wicked people that inhabits the African meridian’ before going on to describe scientific attempts to discover the cause of their darker complexion. 38 The great sceptical philosopher David Hume also assumed that Blacks were inferior, once describing a Black Jamaican who was admired for his great intellect as ‘admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.’ 39 The racist language of European secular intellectuals like Hume was in sharp contrast to the Christian abolitionists, such as John Wesley, James Ramsay and Granville Sharp, who identified this racial inferiority with materialistic philosophy and Hume and Voltaire, and viewed their campaign for abolition as a vindication of Christianity, moral accountability and the unity of humanity. 40 Sharp was a lawyer who specialised in representing slaves, and was a vigorous opponent of those who denied the divinity of Christ. 41

The Anti-Slavery Society and John Wesley 

The abolitionists also included the notable evangelical Anglican poet and educationalist, Hannah More. Their badge, showing a chained African slave wearing only a loin cloth, kneeling with the slogan ‘Am I not a man and a brother’, was designed by the great porcelain manufacturer William Wedgewood. They also had the full support of John Wesley. On the journey to and from Leatherhead in London to deliver his sermon of Wednesday, 23April 1791, Wesley read the autobiography of the former slave, Olaudah Equiano, known in his day as Gustavus Vassa, the Interesting Narrative, which he helped finance. 42 As Wilberforce was preparing for the 1791 antislavery debate, Wesley wrote him a letter of encouragement. The letter gave a frank statement of Wesley’s view of slavery, and of the righteousness of Christian opposition to it:

 ‘But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God: O be not weary of well doing. Go on, in the name of God, and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote me by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance, that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redess; it being a law in all our Colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!’ 43 Wesley had become convinced of the iniquity of slavery in 1772 after reading a work by the great Quaker anti-slavery writer, Anthony Benezet. He expounded his opposition to it in the book, Thoughts on Slavery, asking ‘did the Creator intend that the noblest creatures in the visible world should live such a life as this? … I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of natural justice.’ 44 In 1784 the Wesleyan Connexion in America threatened to expell slave-owners, though it later backed down. 45

Success of Wilberforce’s Campaign against British Slave Trade 

As well as acting against the prevailing sceptical, scientific view of Black’s racial inferiority, Wilberforce and his Christian allies against the slave trade also faced opposition from the secular political establishment. Lord Melbourne declared that ‘things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.’ 46 Secular opinion viewed the abolitionists very much as do-gooding religious fanatics. In the 1820s and 1830s opponents of the anti-slavery campaign described it as ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ in a pejorative sense. In 1805 Wilberforce succeeded in persuading the Prime Minister, William Pitt, to outlaw the selling of slaves to Dutch Guinea and a group of French islands. Then, due to the efforts of the evangelical James Stephen, the slave trade was finally outlawed in the British empire on the 1st May 1807. The Duke of Norfolk declared it to be a ‘humane and merciful act’ and considered it no accident that the slave trade had been outlawed during Holy Week, which celebrated ‘that stupendous instance of mercy towards mankind, the redeption of the world by His death upon the Cross.’ 47

Christian Missions to the Caribbean

After the abolition of the slave trade, Wilberforce and the Anti-Slavery Society turned their attention to attacking slavery itself, aided by Black Christians themselves who drew on Christianity to resist slavery. Although the planters in the Caribbean had been unwilling to allow Christian evangelism amongst their slaves, this changed during the 18th century. Christian missionary work amongst the slaves in the British Caribbean effectively began in 1753 when two Jamaican planters invited the Moravians to teach their slaves Christianity. 48 The Moravians were then followed by missionaries of other denominations, including Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. The Wesley Missionary Society was founded in Jamaica in 1789. They were especially active in attempts to bring the Gospel to Jamaican slaves, and improve their physical condition and material environment. 49 In Antigua Wesleyan Methodism was run between the death of its founder, Nathaniel Gilbert and the arrival of his official replacement, by a series of gifted female slave preachers, very much in the spirit of the early Christian church. 50 They were joined by two Black American Baptist preachers, George Lisle and Moses Baker, who founded the Native Baptist Movement. Concerned at the mixture of orthodox Christianity and what was perceived as African paganism in their doctrines, the Jamaican government invited the Baptist Missionary Society in England to send more orthodox preachers and missionaries to the country. This resulted in the formation of the Jamaican Baptist Mission in 1814. A decade later, in 1824 the Presbyterian Church of Jamaica was founded, soon followed by the Congregationalists. 51

Missionaries’ Concern to Protect Slaves and Improve their Conditions

In general, the Nonconformist denominations in Jamaica worked together to protect slaves from excessive cruelty and to improve their condition by instructing them on the sanctity of human life and personality, the importance of self-respect and individual responsibility. The result was antagonism between the planters, who saw the missionaries as a threat to their interests, and the missionaries themselves. 52 There was initially opposition over the provision of education by the missionaries because it was feared that this would enable the slaves to read revolutionary tracts preaching insurrection. 53 The missionaries in their turn began to formulate plans for the eventual abolition of slavery. When a slave revolt broke out in Demerara in 1824, it was blamed on the preaching of the missionary, John Smith. Smith was arrested and died in custody. Although he himself and his widow claimed they had not encouraged the slaves to revolt, this nevertheless demonstrates the potent force Christian mission posed as a challenge to contemporary dehumanising conditions in slavery, and its encouragement of slaves to challenge their enslavement. 54

The Baptists were particularly active in the campaign to improve conditions for slaves. In Jamaica, the Baptists established a form of church membership distinguished by the ‘Baptist ticket’. This was a printed card issued every month to each member of the congregation, recording their weekly attendance and offerings. They also acted as passes to church meetings, which were regarded as private, and which sometimes included plans for emancipation. The freedom preached by these missionaries were blamed for the slave revolt which erupted in December 1831 and raged through Jamaica the following year. The leaders of Moravian and Baptist Missionary Societies, H.G. Pfeiffer, William Knibb and Thomas Burchell were arrested on the charge of inciting the revolt. However, the government found that there was nothing to incriminate them, and eventually they were acquitted and released. 55 Jamaican Baptist slaves could face intense persecution for their faith. In 1831 Samuel Swiney, a deacon of the Baptist missionary, William Knibb, was prosecuted for illegal preaching , after he led a prayer meeting while Knibb was ill. 56 In that instance, Swiney was acquitted and the two magistrates who attempted to prosecute him, Harden and Finlayson, were struck off the Commission of the Peace. 57 One of the leaders of the slave rebellion of 1832 was reputed to be the preacher, Box, who had incited it with his preaching. 58 The missionary work of the Methodist and Baptist churches were especially important in creating the popular campaign for emancipation that began in 1823. 59 Historians of the 19th century anti-slavery movement, such as David Brion Davis and Hugh Thomas have stressed that the central motivating force behind the campaigners were their religious convictions, and that the backbone of the campaign was the Quakers, with their capacity for organisation, and the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. 60 The great historian of the campaign of Black Jamaicans for freedom, Dr. Richard Hart, the author of Blacks in Bondage and Blacks in Freedom, notes the immense role the missionaries played in educating and preparing Black Jamaicans for their freedom, and in challenging and denouncing slavery.

Christian Black Slave Resistance and Abolition

William Wilberforce retired as MP in 1825. 61 On his retirement, leadership of the Anti-Slavery Society passed to Thomas Fowell Buxton, another Christian reformer, whose efforts resulted in the passing of the Abolition Act of 1833, which outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire. 62 This act resulted in the emancipation of 780,000 slaves throughout the British empire. The British authorities were also active patrolling the oceans to prevent the importation of further slave and their export from Africa. Between 1820 and 1870 the royal navy intercepted 1,600 slaves ships and freed over 150,000 slaves. 63 Like Black Jamaicans, Afro-American slaves also found in Christianity a way to resist slavery. In particularly, they expressed their longing for freedom by strongly identifying with the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. 64 This was expressed in Spirituals, such as ‘When Moses Smote the Water’, ‘Did Not Old Pharaoh Get Lost’, ‘Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep (Pharoah’s Army Got Drownded)’ and ‘Go Down, Moses’. 65 Black American Christianity also focussed on Christ’s suffering under injustice, in the words of the historian Julius Lester, ‘someone who had suffered as they suffered, someone who understoood, someone who offered them rest from their suffering.” 66 Jesus was also for American slaves, ‘King Jesus’, who would return, as promised in the Book of Revelation, to lead His people to freedom and destroy slavery forever. 67

Black Americans also actively formed their own churches. These grew out of the work of Black Methodists under the direction of Richard Allen (1760-1831) in Philadelphia, resulting in the formation of the first Afro-American denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1816, followed in 1824 with foundation of teh African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1824. These sent missionaries to the south, where they competed with the mainstream Baptist and Methodist churches, which already had a very high slave membership. 68 These churches, ran for free and slave alike, ran Sunday schools and Bible classes, prayed for the sick and buried the dead. As in the Caribbean, they acted to nurture Black autonomy and self-organisation. From them emerged the great preachers, editors, educators, orators and organizers for the Black community, talented people who turned their attention to the campaign against slavery. 69 The Bible inspired many slaves to take up arms against their oppression. In 1800 Gabriel Prosser led a revolt after taking on the role of a ‘Black Samson’, inspired by the Bible to lead armed resistance against slavery and set up a Black kingdom in Virginia. Denmark Vessey, a Black Methodist, in 1822 was inspired by the Book of Joshua and the battle of Jericho to attack Charleston, believing he was guided by God in the form of an angel with a blazing sword. Nat Turner, the Black Baptist preacher who led a holy war against slavery in 1831 that resulted in hundreds of deaths, when he was being led to the gallows said ‘Was not Christ crucified?’ 70 ‘These three revolts, therefore, suggested that AFrican-American leaders – a Black Samson, a Black Joshua, a Black Messiah – could translate Christian resources into political action against the conditions of slavery. Rather than a system of social control, therefore, Christianity appeared in these slave revolts as an impetus for liberation.’ 71 Revolts were rare, but nevertheless ‘under the bondage of slavery, Christianity provided a religious vocabulary for liberation in the formation of supportive communities and social networks. In response to the dehumanizing conditions of slavery, Christian church represented a recovery of humanity.’ 72 

Christian Abolitionism in the US

American anti-slavery campaigners also included Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Unitarians, as well as Methodists and Baptists. After the Revolution a number of states abolished slavery, beginning with Pennsylvania in 1780. They were followed by a process of gradual emancipation in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. As with Lord Melbourne in England, secular politicians decried the Christian basis of the abolitionist movement. In 1790 a Maryland congressman complained of ‘the disposition of religious sects to imagine that they understood the rights of human nature better than all the world besides.’ 73 The Second Great Awakening also had an effect on slave consciousness. Not only did it encourage slave-owners to support religious instruction and church attendance amongst their slaves, but the conversion experience itself, the personal feeling of God’s saving grace, allowed slaves to forge their own relationship with God independent of any other third party. In an 1835 church conference in Maine, 80 per cent of the Baptist clergy there identified themselves as ‘decided abolitionists’. 74 Many Roman Catholics also supported the abolitionist cause, such as John Purcell, the Bishop of Cincinnati. 75

Although southern Christians generally considered slavery to be justified by scripture, nevertheless certain oppressive details were challenged and subverted by Christian ministers and their congregations. In antebellum Amite County in Missippi, White ministers appear to have married slaves and in 1822 caused the state legislature to revise a law restricting Blacks’ religious freedom and the rights of Black preachers. In Georgia, some clergymen advocated Black marriage and family rights, while other Whites openlhy taught slaves to read the Bible in direct contravention of the state law. When the Civil War broke out, reforming clergy then turned to demanding the legalisation of Black education. 76

Lyman Beecher founded Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in 1832 with a deliberately colour-blind admissions policy. Although the board of trustees became so alarmed at the abolitionist opinions of the students that it banned anti-slavery activities, this resulted in 53 students moving to Oberlin College, where they continued their activities. These reforming clergymen were immensely influential in their religious and political activities in the mid-West. Stanley Elkins, a historian of slavery, considered that the abolitionists were motivated by the Puritan notion of collective accountability that made every man his brother’s keeper. They preached necessity of turning away from sin and for its elimination from society. For them, the most heinous social sin was slavery, as Black souls were as valuable as Whites, and for one of God’s children to enslave another was a violation of God’s highest law. 77

Congress passed a law in 1807 outlawing the importation any Black or mixed race slave into America from 1 January 1808. 78 1834 saw the foundation of the American Anti-Slavery Society, funded by Arthur and  Lewis Tappan, wealthy merchants in New York and Boston. They also funded Black education along with a number of other reforming projects. Lewis Trappan declared that they did so because ‘we owe it to the cause of humanity, to our country and our God’. 79 It was not only northerners who embraced Abolitionism, however. They included southern Americans such as James Thome, and Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The Grimke sisters came from slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina. Angelina had been converted to the anti-slavery cause after reading a tract on it in 1835, and her letter to her sister explaining the reasons for her conversion was included in an abolitionist pamphlet, ‘An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South’. 80 Perhaps the most famous of all female Abolitionists, however, is Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and her husband was a Congregationalist professor of the Old Testament. A strong believer in sin, guilt and atonement, she incorporated these sentiments into her book, rebuking the American nation for the sin of slavery. 81 Even the leaders of the secular anti-slavery movement, John Quincy Adams, Joshua R. Giddings and Salmon P. Chase, were deeply religious people who recognised the importancy of the evangelical movement as a constituency for anti-slavery activism. 82 Christianity also inspired Harriet Tubman, the heroine of the Underground Railroad, who freed over 300 slaves. Of her mission, she said ‘I must go down, like Moses into Egypt, to lead them out.’ 83 The religious character of Black troopers in the Civil War was noted by one of their commanders, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who remarked on the religious nature of their songs and that ‘behind the gentle worlds in praise of God lurked the spiritual armor of people long at war with oppression.’ 84 Indeed, after the War broke out, Abolitionist Christians were responsible in a large part for Lincoln’s re-election in 1864. Victor B. Howard, in his book, Religon and the Radical Republican Movement, notes how the anti-slavery churches marshalled support for Lincoln, with the effect that the Republicans had almost all of the evangelical Christian vote. The Abolitionist paper, the Christian Advocate and Journal, declared that ‘There probably never was an election in all our history into which the religion element entered so largely, and nearly all on one side.’ 85 Thus, ‘antislavery Christians ensured that the election became, in effect, a referendum on whether to abolish slavery for good.’ 86

Christian Campaign Against Global Slavery

The Christian campaign against slavery did not end with the outlawing of the slave trade and slavery. Despite it’s prohibition, slaves continued to be illegally exported from Africa and elsewhere. In its campaign against the global slave trade, the British government drew on the testimony of Christian missionaries in Africa. The 1848 parliamentary select committee on the slave trade, for example, heard testimony from members of the American Episcopalian Church active in Sierra Leone, a Baptist missionary from Fernando Po and Bimbia, as well as missionaries from Jamaica, Demerara, Barbados and Abeokuta. 87 The parliamentary commissions also heard testimony from Africans themselves, including former slaves, such as Thomas Maxwell, now a citizen of Sierra Leone. Maxwell described the appalling murder of his father and uncles by the African slavers who had carried him off. His slave ship had, however, been intercepted by the royal navy, and he and the rest of its human cargo freed. Maxwell had converted to Christianity, and was studying to be a missionary to bring spiritual and physical freedom to his people. 88 As the British empire expanded into the Pacific, Polynesians were kidnapped to serve as slaves on plantations in Queensland and elsewhere. The British government, colonial authorities and planters believed that the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean had resulted in a labour shortage, and attempted to correct this by importing indentured labourers from India and China. Despite their nominally free status, these people were treated as slaves in the infamous ‘Coolie trade’. Outrage at the suffering produced by the system across the globe prompted the British government to introduce legislation regulating the trade and securing something like decent living and working conditions for the indentured labourers and their families. Hugh Tinker’s history of the infamous ‘Coolie trade’, A New System of slavery, describes not only the suffering and protests by Asians against it, but also the Christian clergy who denounced it, and joined Indian nationalists in demanding an end to the trade.

Of critical importance in this campaign was the royal navy, which acted as the ‘global policeman’ patrolling the oceans against slavery. One New Zealand historian has pointed out that the commanders of the anti-slavery vessels in the West African squadron and elsewhere were either evangelical Christians, or had been educated by evangelicals. For this historian, the British navy was the most powerful force protecting indigenous Polynesians in the Pacific. The London Times in 1869 printed a letter by the wife of one Polynesian missionary to the Rev. John Graham protesting against the atrocities against Polynesians committed by British traders in the Pacific. 89 One of the most vigorous campaigners against the enslavement of indigenous Polynesians was the Anglican bishop Patterson. An anti-slavery rally in 1869 in Sydney, Australia, included speeches and condemnation of slavery from the Anglican Bishop of Sydney, bishop Patteson, Rabbi A.B. Davis of the Sydney Synagogue, Rev. John Graham of the Congregational Church, Rev. J.B. Smyth, chaplain to H.M.S. Brisk, Rev. J.P. Sunderland, the Presbyterian minister, Rev. Adam Thomson, the Wesleyan Methodist minister, Rev. G. Hurst, and Rev. G.H. Moreton. These clergymen based their ardent opposition to slavery on the Biblical injunction against man-stealing. 90 The personal efforts of many of the Christian missionaries against the slavers in Africa result in personal assault, injury and possible martyrdom. In 1874 Benjamin Hartley, a missionary student with the Universities’ Mission in East Africa was attacked and seriously injured by Arab slavers when he approached and began talking to their slaves. He was rescued by a group of Zunyamwezi people, and brought back to the mission, critically injured, by his sub-deacon, Francis Mabruki. The Moslem overlord of the district, Seyd Burghash, who had signed treaties with the British against the trade, was investigating the attack in order to procure evidence against the slavers. 91

Persistence of Slavery Today

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Christian clergy and laymen, as well as countless people of other faiths and none, and governments and charities around the world, slavery still persists today around the world, and charities, such as the secular Anti-Slavery International, continue the campaign against it. There are bonded slaves in Brazil, and slave workers in sweatshops in Asia. Slavery also continues in Africa, particularly Mauretania and Sudan. Most of the slaves in Sudan are Christian and pagan Black Africans from the Dinka people. Between 1995 and 2000 Christian Solidarity International, a charity dedicated to the ‘worldwide respect for the God-given right of every human being to choose his or her faith and to practice it’ freed nearly 21,000 Sudanese slaves by purchasing and releasing them. The great defenders of Black Sudanese themselves have been the two bishops, one Roman Catholic and the other Episcopalian. 92

Conclusion

Thus, although Christianity originally permitted slavery, it also demanded its regulation. The enslavement of the great figures of the Bible, like Joseph, and the Hebrews themselves in Egypt and their deliverance from Pharaoh inspired enslaved Christians to resist slavery, while the Biblical insistence on the unity of humanity and their equality before the Lord, along with the sufferings and continued resistance of the slaves themselves against slavery, caused White Christians to demand its abolition. It also created a tradition of Christian opposition to racism of which the Civil Rights campaign was very much a part and a continuation. When Dr. Martin Luther King stood up and declared ‘I have seen the Promised Land’, he expressed the hope and outrage that inspired George Fox, Samuel Sewell, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman and countless others. Odiously, slavery still persists. We’re not there yet, but these people who believed in the God-given liberty of all humanity were instrumental in abolishing it in the West, and creating the campaign against it throughout the world.

Notes

1. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments against Anti-Religious Bigotry (San Francisco, Encounter Books 2002), p. 28.

2. Ivor Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman: Jamaica and Its Religion (Cambridge, James Clarke & Co 1982), p. 25.

3. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, pp. 25-6.

4. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 26.

5. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, pp. 26-7.

6. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 27.

7. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 26.

8. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 27.

9. David Chidester, Christianity: A Global History (London, Penguin Books 2000), p. 436.

10. John Holm, Pidgins and Creoles: Volume II – Reference Survey (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1989), p. 342.  

11. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 29.

12. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 30.

13. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 33.

14. Chidester, Christianity, p. 436.

15. James Walvin, The Quakers – Money and Morals (London, John Murray 1997), p. 126.

16. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 34.

17. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 32.  

18. Walvin, Quakers, p. 126.

19. Walvin, Quakers, p. 127.

20. Walvin, Quakers, p. 127.

21. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 41.

22. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 41.

23. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 32.

24. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 33.

25. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 36; Jonathan Aitken, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (London, Continuum UK 2007), p. 226.

26. Aitken, John Newton, p. 226.

27. Aitken, John Newton, p. 230.

28. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 36.

29. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 34.

30. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 35.

31. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, pp. 35-6.

32. Aitken, John Newton, p. 242.

33. Aitken, John Newton, p. 244.

34. Aitken, John Newton, p. 246.

35. Aitken, John Newton, p. 248.  

36. Aitken, John Newton, p. 239.

37. 1797 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, cited in Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 31.

38. ‘Negre’ by M. Le Romain, in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire raisonne des science, des arts, et des metiers, in Emmanuel Chadwick, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader (Oxford, Blackwell 1997), pp. 91-2.

39. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 31.

40. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 31.

41. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, pp. 31-2.

42. Stephen Tomkins, John Wesley: A Biography (Oxford, Lion Publishing 2003), p. 192.

43. Tomkins, John Wesley, p. 193.

44. Tomkins, John Wesley, p. 177.

45. Tonkins, John Wesley, p. 177.  

46. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 36.

47. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 38.

48. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 34.

49. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 35.

50. Tomkins, John Wesley, p. 177.

51. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 35.

52. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, pp. 35-6.

53. House of Commons Papers 1817: Report of the Commissioners for the Management of the Crown Estates in Berbice, 1816.

54. House of Commons Papers 1824: Demerara – Relating to the Insurrection of Slaves, and the Trials Thereon.

55. Morrish, Obeah, Christ and Rastaman, p. 37.

56. House of Commons Paper 1831: Jamaica Slave Trials and Punishment.

57. House of Commons Pamphlet 1832: Jamaica Slave Trials and Punishment.

58. House of Commons Papers 1832: West India Colonies – Slave Instructions.

59. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 39.

60. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 35.

61. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 39.

62. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 38; House of Commons Paper 1834-5: Slavery Abolition Act – Order in Council, dated 31 july 1835, for giving effect to the Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c.73, for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies.

63. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 38.

64. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 49; Chidester, Christianity, p. 438.

65. Chidester, Christianity, p. 438.

66. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 49.

67. Chidester, Christianity, pp. 438-9.

68. Chidester, Christianity, p. 439; Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 49.

69. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 50.

70. Chidester, Christianity, pp. 437-8.

71. Chidester, Christianity, p. 438.

72. Chidester, Christianity, p. 439.

73. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 42.

74. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 42.

75. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 43.

76. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 43.

77. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 45.

78. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 44.

79. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 45.

80. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 46.

81. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 47.

82. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 47.

83. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 50.

84. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 50.

85. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 51.

86. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 51.

87. House of Commons Papers 1848: Third Report – Slave Trade.

88. House of Commons Papers 1850: Report-African Slave Trade.

89. House of Commons Papers 1868-9: Queensland (South Sea Islanders).

90. House of Commons Papers 1868-9: Queensland (South Sea Islanders).

91. House of Commons Papers: Slave Trade no. 5 (1874) Reports on the Present State of the East African Slave Trade.

92. Carroll and Shiflett, Christianity on Trial, p. 52.