Pro-Slavery Perspectives

From Elizabeth Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America, Volume II: The Eighteenth Century

Slavery was an integral part of the British economy during the eighteenth century, and it was especially important to port towns such as Liverpool. A list of eighty-eight ships from Liverpool bound to Africa in 1752 notes the movement of over 24,730 slaves in that year alone (498). The petition below asks the House of Commons to consider "public welfare" and, in the interests of the "wealth and prosperity of the kingdom at large," to stop the political movement towards abolition.

Similar petitions were made by other towns that had a heavy involvement in the slave trade, or in related naval commercial activities, such as boat building or chandlery. One petition of manufacturers, ship-builders, ship-holders, and traders from Bristol urged the House:

[T]he Abolition of the Slave Trade, with the Effects it will necessarily have on Trade and Credit of the West India Islands, will deprive the Port of Bristol of so great a Share of its present Commerce, Shipping and Advantages, that the other general Branches of its Trade will necessarily sink with it, and altogether will be attended with such ruinous Consequences to the Petitioners, and the People employed under them, that it will involve Thousands in the utmost Difficulty and Distress, who, with their Families, ought not to be the last Objects of Regard to those who are actuated by Motives of true Humanity * * * (606)

When British commerce, employment, and investment are at stake, these pro-slavery petitions claim, abolition is not in every man's best "interest."

[A Petition of Liverpool to the House of Commons Regarding the Slave Trade]

February 14, 1788 [9?].

To the honourable the House of Commons, The humble petition of the Mayor etc.

Sheweth, That your petitioners as Trustees of the Corporate fund of the ancient and loyal town of Liverpool have always been ready not only to give every encouragement in their power to the commercial interests of that part of the Community more immediately under their care, but as much as possible to strengthen the reins of Government and to promote the public welfare.

That the trade of Liverpool having met with the countenance of this honourable House in many Acts of Parliament, which have been granted at different times during the present century, for the constructing of proper and convenient wet docks >> note 1 for shipping, and more especially for the African ships, >> note 2 which from their form require to be constantly afloat, your Petitioners have been emboldened to lay out considerable sums of money and to pledge their Corporate Seal for other sums to a very large amount for effectuating these goods and laudable purposes.

That your Petitioners have also been happy to see the great increase and different resources of trade which has flowed in upon their town by the numerous canals and other communications from the interior parts of this kingdom, in which many individuals, as well as public bodies of proprietors are materially interested.

And that from these causes, particularly the convenience of the docks, and some other local advantages, added to the enterprizing spirit of the people, which has enabled them to carry on the African Slave Trade with vigour, the town of Liverpool has arrived at a pitch of mercantile consequence which cannot but affect and improve the wealth and prosperity of the kingdom at large.

Your Petitioners therefore contemplate with real concern the attempts now making by the petitions lately preferred to your honourable House to obtain a total abolition of the African Slave trade, which has hitherto received the sanction of Parliament, and for a long series of years has constituted and still continues to form a very extensive branch of the commerce of Liverpool, and in effect gives strength and energy to the whole; but confiding in the wisdom and justice of the British Senate, Your Petitioners humbly pray to be heard by their Counsel against the abolition of this source of wealth before the Honourable House shall proceed to determine upon a point which so essentially concerns the welfare of the town and port of Liverpool in particular, and the landed interest of the kingdom in general, and which in their judgment must also tend to the prejudice of the British manufacturers, must ruin the property of the English merchants in the West Indies, diminish the public revenue and impair the maritime strength of Great Britain. . . . >> note 3

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