Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism

Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism

by Christopher Leslie Brown

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Revisiting the origins of the British antislavery movement of the late eighteenth century, Christopher Leslie Brown challenges prevailing scholarly arguments that locate the roots of abolitionism in economic determinism or bourgeois humanitarianism. Brown instead connects the shift from sentiment to action to changing views of empire and nation in Britain at the time, particularly the anxieties and dislocations spurred by the American Revolution.

The debate over the political rights of the North American colonies pushed slavery to the fore, Brown argues, giving antislavery organizing the moral legitimacy in Britain it had never had before. The first emancipation schemes were dependent on efforts to strengthen the role of the imperial state in an era of weakening overseas authority. By looking at the initial public contest over slavery, Brown connects disparate strands of the British Atlantic world and brings into focus shifting developments in British identity, attitudes toward Africa, definitions of imperial mission, the rise of Anglican evangelicalism, and Quaker activism.

Demonstrating how challenges to the slave system could serve as a mark of virtue rather than evidence of eccentricity, Brown shows that the abolitionist movement derived its power from a profound yearning for moral worth in the aftermath of defeat and American independence. Thus abolitionism proved to be a cause for the abolitionists themselves as much as for enslaved Africans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807838952
Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/01/2012
Series: Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Christopher Leslie Brown is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and coeditor of Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age.

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From the Publisher

Moral Capital is a compelling story, logically structured and elegantly written. Brown's fine-grained analysis of the abolitionists clarifies how antislavery visions were first limited and finally unleashed by their existential situations within the British Empire. The result is a densely woven tapestry of the warp of antislavery and the woof of imperial and transatlantic politics, offering us a thicker description of pre-Parliamentary abolitionism in Britain than we have ever enjoyed. A major advance in the history of abolitionism.—Seymour Drescher, University of Pittsburgh

Brown has constructed the most original interpretation in decades of the origins of the campaigns against the slave trade and slavery in the Atlantic world. His book will be widely read and influential.—David Eltis, Emory University

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