Conclusion: Romanticism, Revolution, and William Wilberforce’s Unregarded Tears

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


The first efforts of William Wilberforce and others to abolish the slave trade were unsuccessful. The Abolition Committee had set out in 1787 to see the trade abolished at the earliest possible opportunity. By 1792 that opportunity looked as if it might be a long time in coming. After Wilberforce’s speech naming Captain Kimber, Henry Dundas suggested an amendment to the Abolition Bill: the introduction of the word ‘gradual’. The bill passed as amended, by 230 votes to 85, and gradual abolition became law, the final date for slave trading to remain legal being later fixed at 1796. This gave the West India Interest room to manoeuvre. Parliamentary delaying tactics came into play, further evidence was demanded, and it became clear that gradual abolition was to mean no abolition. Much had taken place in the intervening time to focus the minds of British politicians and the British public on other issues. Of these, the French Revolution was the most significant, rapidly became the defining event of the 1790s, over-shadowing the abolition movement, and bringing out the conservative instincts of many who had previously supported change. After the outbreak of war with France in 1793, few of the middle or upper ranks of society had any inclination to rock the boat. While the slavery debate continued into the 1790s and beyond, by the middle of the decade, abolition of slavery had become associated in the public mind with radicals and English Jacobins.


French Revolution False Sensibility Parliamentary Debate Literary Discourse British Politician 
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© Brycchan Carey 2005

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  • Brycchan Carey

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