‘Read This, and Blush’: The Pamphlet War of the 1780s

  • Brycchan Carey
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


This chapter argues that the use of sentimental rhetoric was widespread in abolitionist pamphlets and essays of the 1780s, as well as in some pamphlets written by proslavery apologists. Throughout the decade, the number of publications addressing slavery grew annually, from just a handful of titles in the first three years of the decade to a peak of well over 100 titles in 1788.1 This relatively sudden growth in publications concerning slavery might be taken for the historical moment when ‘antislavery’ originated as an identifiable political position. Nevertheless, as Hugh Thomas has shown, outright opposition to slavery had been articulated almost from the start of the European slave trade, with sixteenth-century Spanish clerics and lawyers leading the way.2 Many of their arguments were specific to their historical and geographical location but, as David Brion Davis has pointed out, by the early eighteenth century the substance of the Anglophone antislavery debate had largely been worked out, even if few people were aware of it. In his analysis of two pamphlets published by the American Quaker John Hepburn in 1715, he notes that ‘taken together, these remarkable essays answered virtually every pro-slavery argument that would appear during the next century and a half’.3 They went largely unread, even in the colony in which they were written.


Slave Trade Slave Owner Monthly Review Impartial Spectator Sexual Sadism 
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© Brycchan Carey 2005

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  • Brycchan Carey

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