a1 University of Southampton
During the late eighteenth century organized anti-slavery, in the shape of the campaign to end the African slave trade (1787–1807), became an unavoidable feature of political life in Britain. Drawing on previously unpublished material in the Josiah Wedgwood Papers, the following article seeks to reassess this campaign and, in particular, the part played in it by the (London) Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. So far from being a low-level lobby, as historians like Seymour Drescher have suggested, it is argued here that the Committee's activities, both in terms of opinion-building and arranging for petitions to be sent to the house of commons, were central to the success of the early abolitionist movement. Thus while the provinces and public opinion at the grass roots level were undoubtedly important, not least in the industrial north, it was the metropolis and the London Committee which gave political shape and significance to popular abolitionism.