On this day March 25, 1807

The Slave Trade Act becomes law, abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire. The Slave Trade Act, an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed on 25 March 1807, with the long title “An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade”.

A replica of the Zong

A replica of the Zong

The original act is in the Parliamentary Archives. The act abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, but not slavery itself; that remained legal until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

The British trade in slaves began in 1562, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when John Hawkins led the first slaving expedition.

The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which led the campaign that pushed the act through, was a group of Evangelical Protestants allied with Quakers and united in their opposition to slavery and the slave trade.

The Quakers had long viewed slavery as immoral, a blight upon humanity. By 1807 the abolitionist groups had a very sizable faction of like-minded members in the United Kingdom Parliament. They controlled at their height 35-40 seats.

Known as the “saints”, this alliance was led by William Wilberforce, the most well known of the anti-slave trade campaigners, and is second in importance to Thomas Clarkson. These parliamentarians had access to the legal draughtsmanship of James Stephen, Wilberforce’s brother-in-law, and were extremely dedicated.

They often saw their personal battle against slavery as a divinely ordained crusade. In addition, many who were formerly neutral on the slavery question were swayed to the abolitionist side from security concerns after the successful slave revolt leading to the Haitian Revolution in 1804.

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