Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

The rise of the Manchester anti-slavery movement

by Washington Alcott

Despite Manchester’s direct role in the transatlantic slave trade, the 1807 act was strongly influenced by the city's campaigners, influential sections of the clergy and even Manchester cotton merchants themselves. The anti-slave trade movement showed that it was serious about ending the traffic of Africans, putting pressure on the British government and slave traders through public meetings, petitions and boycotting the use of sugar.

Thomas Clarkson: abolitionist

One of the city’s major efforts in the anti-slave trade movement, which immediately sparked renewed national attention, was the invitation given to Thomas Clarkson to denounce slavery in Manchester. Clarkson’s visit was a watershed that energised the anti-slavery campaign across the country. His address on 8 October 1787 at the Collegiate Church (later Manchester Cathedral) gave the national abolitionist movement a new focus. From Clarkson’s reception in Manchester and its impact, more local, regional and national anti-slavery lobbying emerged.

Clarkson’s visit added much weight to the formation of a number of anti-slavery organisations in Manchester, including the Anti-Slavery Society Union, the Constitutional Society, the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, the Emancipation Society and the Manchester Union. They were well aware of the campaign work of MP William Wilberforce in parliament. All these factors encouraged the Manchester Anti-Slavery Committee to organise a petition in support of Wilberforce, calling for the abolition of the slave trade; a monumental drive for a petition against the slave trade collected over 10,500 names: roughly one in five Mancunians.

The Manchester radical abolitionist movement was becoming difficult to ignore. Amongst its supporters were well known public figures such as John Wesley and Drs John and Adam Clarke. Samuel Bradburn, a prominent Methodist, stated in his support of free trade:

'I have given up the use of sugar in everything, except medicine; and shall continue till the slave trade is abolished'. He urged members of his methodist conference to abstain from 'a drug comprised of the slave dealers' sin and misery'.

Despite the 1807 act of parliament, the Manchester anti-slavery movement remained determined in its efforts to end slavery in the British colonies (which was not outlawed until the 1833 act).