The English colonial system and a need for large labor forces to cultivate land and generate products for the benefit of the British Empire was behind the importation of slaves to North America, and fueling the transatlantic slave trade were the Muslim kings of Africa’s Gulf of Guinea who readily sold their subjects to European traders. Slavery in Africa was a widespread institution and existed in the Sudan, Senegambia, Upper Gambia and along the Niger River. The New England abolitionists could have adopted Wilberforce’s peaceful campaign to eradicate slavery, and repaid humanity for the sins of their own slave trading fathers.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
England’s Slave Trade Guilt
(Speech in the House of Commons by William Wilberforce, 12 May, 1789)
“When we consider the vastness of the continent of Africa; when we reflect how all other countries have some centuries past been advancing in happiness and civilization; when we think how in this same period all improvement in Africa has been defeated in her intercourse with Britain;
[W]hen we reflect that it is we ourselves that have degraded them to that wretched brutishness and barbarity which we now plead as the justification of our guilt; how the slave trade has enslaved their minds, blackened their character . . . What a mortification must we feel at having so long neglected to think of our guilt, or attempt any reparation!
It seems, indeed, as if we had determined to forbear from all interference [with slavery] until the measure of our folly and wickedness was so full and complete; until the impolicy which eventually belongs to vice was become so plain and glaring that not an individual in the country should refuse to join in the abolition; it seems as if we had waited until the persons most interested should be tired out with the folly and nefariousness of the trade, and should unite in petitioning against it.
Let us then make such amends as we can for the mischiefs we have done to the unhappy continent; let us recollect what Europe itself was no longer ago than three or four centuries.
What if I should be able to show this House [of Commons] that in a civilized part of Europe, in the time of Henry VII, there were people who actually sold their own children? What if I should tell them that England itself was that country? What if I should point out to them that the very place where this inhuman traffic was carried on was the city of Bristol?
Ireland at that time used to drive a considerable trade in slaves with these neighboring barbarians; but the great plague having infested the country, the Irish were struck with a panic, suspected (I am sure very properly) that the plague was a punishment sent from heaven for the sin of the slave trade, and therefore abolished it.
All I ask, therefore, of the people of Bristol is, that they would become as civilized now as Irishmen were four hundred years ago. Let us put an end at once to this inhuman traffic – let us stop this effusion of human blood.”
(The World’s Famous Orations, William Jennings Bryan, editor, Funk and Wagnalls, 1906, pp. 66-68)