© 2016

Proslavery Britain

Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition

  • Authors

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-x
  2. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 1-8
  3. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 9-49
  4. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 51-88
  5. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 89-114
  6. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 115-142
  7. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 143-162
  8. Paula E. Dumas
    Pages 163-165
  9. Back Matter
    Pages 167-223

About this book


The history of British abolition and the fight to end Britain's participation in two long- standing practices, slaveholding and slave trading, have inspired generations of academic study. Countless historians, beginning with the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson as far back as 1808, have written triumphant tales of the selfless abolitionists as though they were writing the complete story of abolition. These early portrayals of abolition as a triumph of humanitarian progress have resulted in a one-sided story that continues to be repeated in countless studies of the economic, political, and humanitarian motivations behind abolition.

This book, however, explores the untold story of the fight against abolitionist forces in Britain between 1783, when the first anti-slavery petition was presented in Parliament, and 1833, when the British Parliament formally voted to abolish slavery in their West Indian colonies. It is the story of the men and women who willingly participated in the slave trade, promoted slavery through print media and the arts, fought for it in Parliament, and channelled their money into supporting these efforts. The members of this proslavery society shaped the process and outcome of abolition. They delayed and defeated numerous bills that were meant to abolish British participation in the slave trade. They used thoughtful, rational contemporary arguments that supported Britain's participation in the 'horrid trade' and plantation slavery. They won a victory within the slavery abolition bill, gaining an unprecedented financial compensation package and several more years of guaranteed labor. Yet the participants in this thriving, persuasive proslavery culture have been hidden away in the histories of British abolition, their power and influence downplayed, and their reputations ruined as they are continually cast aside in favor of the triumphant narrative of British abolition. This is the first book to focus on the strategies, the successes, and the failures of the many people who fought to maintain and promote Britain's participation in the international slave trade and plantation slavery.


slavery abolition emancipation Britain slave trade West India Parliament Jamaica Barbados culture participation politics trade women

About the authors

Paula E. Dumas received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Edinburgh, UK. The University selected her work on proslavery arguments for the Jeremiah Dalziel Prize in British History.

Bibliographic information


“The book consists of three parts. The introduction and opening chapter present proslavery positions from economic, strategic, historicist, legalistic, paternalistic, moral, and religious points of view. … there is much here to interest scholars of slavery, abolition, and emancipation, as well as anyone interested in the history of political lobbying, and the book offers a very useful starting point for future studies of British proslavery.” (Brycchan Carey, American Historical Review, Vol. 122 (2), April 2017)

“As scholarly focus on Britain's era of colonial slavery continues to grow, Paula Dumas has provided a valuable and wide-ranging analysis of pro-slavery advocacy in the age of abolition. This book reminds us that while the slave-owners lost the battle over abolition, they won the war over racial subordination.”
-Nicholas Draper, Co-director of Structure and Signification of British Caribbean Slave-ownership 1763–1833 project, University College London, England

“Comprehensive in its range and focus, Proslavery Britain offers a fascinating insight into proslavery arguments and rhetoric during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This painstaking study promises to reshape our understanding of slavery debates in Britain, not least through its attention to things such as proslavery arts and culture. We have long needed a book of this kind and Dumas has risen to the task magnificently.”
-John Oldfield, Professor of History, Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull, England