Christopher L. Brown

Christopher L. Brown teaches history at Columbia.

Later, Not Now: Histories of Emancipation

Christopher L. Brown, 15 July 2021

The British plantation lobby rarely receives credit for the skill with which it defended colonial slavery. For nearly half a century, slaveowners blocked emancipation schemes, neutered reform proposals and terrorised those in the colonies who threatened the established order. It helped that they had the right friends. Tory governments spent the 1810s and 1820s appeasing plantation owners and slow-rolling abolitionists. George Canning, foreign secretary from 1822 to 1827 and briefly prime minister, fobbed off opponents of slavery by pretending to agree with them. He declared that personally he ‘abjure[d] the principle of slavery’. He brought resolutions to the Commons that called for the mitigation, amelioration and gradual abolition of slavery. But these were mostly for show. Canning made little effort to implement the measures he endorsed. He allowed those with West Indian interests to determine for themselves what constituted suitable reforms.

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