Slavery has always had its opponents. But the movement to abolish the slave trade only took off in the late 1770’s. In 1771 Granville Sharp brought the case of the escaped slave James Somerset before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. Somerset had escaped and been recaptured in England by his American owner. Mansfield declared,
“A foreigner cannot be imprisoned here on the authority of any law existing in his own country.”
Somerset was set free. But slaves continued to be sold in Britain and British slaves ships carried on operating, taking slaves to the Caribbean.
In the 1780’s the Quakers under Granville Sharp began to publicly campaign against slavery. At this time slavery was not merely something that happened far away – slaves could be seen for sale in Liverpool and Bristol. West Indian planters took to coming to England with their slaves, pricking the consciences of those who might otherwise not have given slavery a second thought.
William Wilberforce became a leading abolitionist, tirelessly lobbying public opinion and parliament. Abolitionists also got involved in the Resettlement of Freed Slaves in Africa.
There were a number factors which hastened the end of slavery:
· the industrial revolution in Britain brought a new demand for efficiency, free trade and free labour; all this was out of step with slavery.
· Britain’s ties with America were loosened when she lost her colonies in the American war of independence in 1776.