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Organising action groups

Quaker Meeting House (with permission of 'The Library of the Religious Society of Friends')

By the late 1700's, a number of people had stated their opposition to slavery. The Quakers had put the first petition to Parliament in 1783. Granville Sharp had used the courts to protect the freedom of former slaves, such as Jonathan Strong and James Somerset. John Woolman, Anthony Benezet, James Ramsey and Thomas Clarkson had all written anti Slavery literature. Slave rebellions were escalating and black people had fought for their freedom through the courts and in their writings.

However, the impact of all this on the general public and law makers in Britain had been more limited. To be successful, those fighting slavery needed to ensure that as many people as possible knew the truth about the trade and the struggle going on. They also needed to work with people who had the skills and influence to make this happen. This could only be achieved by working together in a more organised way.

The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed on 22 May, 1787, to be the driving force behind the movement in Britain. It consisted of 12 men, nine of them Quakers. However Quakers were religious dissenters (disagreed with the doctrines of the Church of England) and banned from public life. To ensure a wider appeal and greater political influence, three Anglicans, Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and Philip Sansom, were chosen to represent the committee. Later, William Wilberforce was later recruited by Thomas Clarkson to be the voice of the movement in Parliament.

The committee utilised the national network of Quaker meeting houses to raise funds, get involvement from the public and spread information. Soon a network of local action groups developed across the country. They were mainly led by Quaker or Evangelical Christians but membership came from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life.

By the 1780s, Africans in England, who had gained their freedom or escaped from enslavement, formed their own political organisation, 'The Sons of Africa'. Membership included the famous writers Olaudah Equiano and Ottabah Cugoano. They collaborated with other abolitionists, lobbied parliament and the newspapers.

Working in a more organised way allowed the abolitionists to draw on people with the skills and knowledge to advance the cause:- printers, writers and artists, lawyers and those with political influence, as well as the ordinary campaigners willing to promote the cause, rally support and disseminate information.


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